Rebels Survive Late Auburn Drive

Auburn suffered the most frustrating loss of a frustrating 2003 season as Ole Miss escaped Jordan-Hare Stadium with a 24-20 victory.

Auburn, Ala.--On a day when the defense did enough to win, the offense didn't take advantage of its opportunities and the result was a crushing 24-20 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels.

Twice Auburn drove inside the Ole Miss 15-yard line in the final minutes and both times came away with no points. A missed field goal from 32-yards by Philip Yost opened the door for Ole Miss to rally for a victory, which is exactly what Eli Manning and the Rebel offense did.

After the Ole Miss go-ahead score with 2:39 left, Auburn trailed by four points and needed to go the length of the football field to pull out a victory. Ben Obomanu's spectacular 51-yard play on a screen pass and run almost made it happen as he raced to the Ole Miss 10-yard line. After a five yard pass to Jeris McIntyre and a two-yard run by Carnell Williams, the ball was at the three-yard line with two plays and one timeout left.

The first play the Tigers picked almost worked like a charm as Campbell rolled out right and lofted a perfect pass to wide open Obomanu in the end zone. However, the ball slipped through his hands and the Tigers were down to one play left to keep alive their hopes of playing for the SEC Championship. Campbell again rolled right, but this time he couldn't find an open receiver. Just before his momentum carried him out of bounds, he threw up a prayer of a pass to McIntyre, but the Ole Miss defense had it covered and the Rebels improved to 6-0 in the SEC while Auburn dropped to 4-2 in the league.

"We have got to come back and regroup and play another good team next week," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, whose Tigers make their final road trip of a disappointing season to Athens next Saturday to face the Georgia Bulldogs.

Tuberville said that nobody on his team blamed the loss on Obomanu's drop or any one play. "He made a heck of a run to get us down there," Tuberville said. "He gave us a chance. That is all you can say. It's kind of a broken pattern on the last one. On the second to last one you drop it. That is not unusual when you have to break a pattern. The ball is all of the sudden thrown to you and you drop it, but again, if it hadn't been for him we would never been down there. Somebody else needs to make a play every once in a while."

Ben Obomanu races for 51-yards as Carnell Williams tries to block for the receiver.

Obomanu, who slumped on the turf at Jordan-Hare Stadium in dejection after the game, was willing to talk about the missed pass that would have put the Tigers on top with seconds remaining. "It was very disappointing considering I made a pretty good play to get us down there," he said. "I really haven't dropped a pass or anything in practice for about two weeks now. It hurts when you put your team in a situation to win the game and they call on you to win the game and you don't do that. It hurts real bad."

With third and goal at the three, the coaches will be second-guessed for not giving their All-American candidate Williams a chance to touch the ball to win the game. Tuberville answered a question by saying the situation at the time called for a rollout pass play.

Williams ran the ball 20 times for 103 yards and touchdown as Auburn had 389 yards to 302 for the Rebels, who lead the SEC scoring and total offense. Tuberville said he figured if Auburn could hold the Ole Miss offense to 24 points, 14 below its average, that the Tigers would win the game.

Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said, "I just want to say that was a great football game. It was a gutsy effort by our kids and our staff and certainly on Auburn's part. This was a great Southeastern Conference football game. We saw 15 to 20 plays that if we hadn't made them, we wouldn't have a chance to win the game."

There were no turnovers in the game for either team as Ole Miss improved to 8-2 while Auburn dropped to 6-4. However, Auburn had to hand the ball over to the Rebel defense too many times to win the game. Tuberville and offensive coordinator Hugh Nall cited the third down statistics as the difference in the game. Auburn converted just 3-13 while Ole Miss was good on 10-18 with QB Eli Manning making clutch passes for the visitors.

"We are in control of our own destiny," Manning said. "We have two tough games ahead of us and the offweek is a plus. This is the reason I came back for my senior year to lead this team to Atlanta."

The Tigers had an ugly start with a short, bouncing kickoff by Yost that was returned 50 yards by Chris Collins to open the game. It took the Rebels just five plays to get on the scoreboard with most of the damage done on runs of 17, 13, four and three yards by Tremaine Turner. The TD came on a third and goal pass from Manning to Collins, who bobbled the short pass but was uncovered in the flat on the play.

Auburn responded with a strong scoring drive, moving 77 yards on 10 plays. Campbell completed passes of 14 and four yards to Obomanu and ran for 16 yards himself on a third and seven play to keep the drive alive. For the entire game, Campbell was effective running the ball with seven carries for 42 yards. Williams set up the TD with a 29-yard run and scored the next play untouched on a sweep at right end to tie the score at 7-7.

The Tigers took the lead on their second possession, moving 59 yards on seven plays with the big one a 29-yard run by Williams. The Tigers just missed a TD on a pass to Courtney Taylor in the end zone on second and six from the Ole Miss 13. After a swing pass to Williams was incomplete, the Tigers settled for a 30-yard field goal to put Auburn ahead 10-7.

The Rebels regained the lead in the second quarter, once again using good field position. A line-drive with a favorable roll punt backed Auburn up to its seven yard line and the Tigers couldn't get the football off the goal. After punting it to the Rebels at their own 48, Ole Miss marched 11 plays with the touchdown coming on a 15-yard pass to Mario Hill on third down and seven. That put the Rebels up and ended the first half scoring.

Auburn got the ball back two more times, but went three and out both times to trail by four at intermission. At halftime, Ole Miss had held the ball for 34 plays and had gained 123 yards. Auburn had the ball for 25 plays and netted 138 yards, but in the second quarter the Tigers didn't have a first down and netted just three yards.

The Tigers regained the lead a 17-14 on their first deep ball of the game. Campbell threw a deep sideline route to Obomanu. The ball was tipped by defensive back Von Hutchins into the hands of the Auburn wide receiver who raced in for a score on a 68-yard yard play. Auburn's scoring drive covered 80 yards on four plays. It was set up by a nice defensive stand that included a pair of sacks by Reggie Torbor.

Ole Miss tried to match the TD on the next possession. Starting at the Auburn 20, the Rebels steadily moved into Auburn territory before settling for a 42-yard field goal by Jonathan Nichols with 14:40 left in the final quarter. Good pressure by defensive end Jay Ratliff on a third down and six play forced the Rebels to go for the field goal that tied the game at 17-17. The scoring drive covered 56 yards on 10 plays.

Auburn responded with a field goal of its on a drive of the identical distance and same number of plays. Yost's 30-yard field goal with 10:45 left put the Tigers on top 20-17.

Yost missed a 32-yarder with 7:20 left that would have increased the lead to six. Auburn couldn't take advantage of great field position after it started at the Rebel 40 after a shanked 20-yard punt. When the Tigers got the ball back they trailed 24-20 after Manning drove the Rebels 80 yards on 10 plays to get the winning score with 2:39 left.


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