Tigers Take Out Tide

Auburn held off a late Alabama charge to take the Iron Bowl with a 28-24 victory on Saturday night.

Auburn, Ala.--An emotional Auburn football team missed an opportunity to blow away archrival Alabama, but the Tigers had enough grit to hang on for a 28-23 football victory in what could be the final Auburn game for Coach Tommy Tuberville.

After the victory, the head coach said he wasn't resigning, but didn't know if he would be back in 2004. He is scheduled to meet the week after Thanksgiving to discuss his job status with AU President William Walker.after his Tigers finished the regular season 7-5. Auburn is expected to play one more time in a bowl game, most likely the Music City contest in Nashville. However, there is major doubt that Tuberville will be coaching the Tigers by then.

Tuberville in what could be his last post-game press conference for the Tigers.

Senior defensive tackle Spencer Johnson said he was thrilled with winning for the third time in four tries vs. Alabama, but he was obviously not happy about the possibility Tuberville and his staff might not be coaching the Auburn program in 2004. "I think that would be really crazy to get rid of Coach Tuberville. He has done great things for this program. He turned this program around. I think people forgot about that when things started going bad. I would like to see Tuberville stay here for a long, long time."

However, such decisions are not made by football players. Johnson said after taking a break for Thanksgiving vacation this week, he looks forward to the bowl trip, which will be his final college game.

On Tuesday at his press conference, Tuberville said that he would be back for 2004. On Saturday night he had a different answer to that question. "It ain't my decision," he said. "Any more questions?" When asked to confirm that he was not going to resign, Tuberville said, "You can book that. You can put that down tomorrow. I won't be resigning."

It was an unusual game as well as postgame. On the field, Auburn racked up 519 yards of total offense to just 291 for the Tide, but had to hold Bama off down the stretch when the Tide scored with 1:03 left to cut the Auburn lead to 28-23. An onside kick didn't go 10 yards before it was touched gave possession to the Tigers at midfield. That allowed quarterback Jason Campbell to take a knee to burn the final seconds.

Earlier in the evening he burned the Tide with his arm, hitting 18-27 passes for 270 yards with one TD. He could have easily had several touchdown passes if his receivers hadn't dropped the football on three potential scoring plays that the Tigers got no points from.

Campbell wouldn't say it was his best Auburn performance, but did say, "You can put it up there with the top ones. We played hard together as a team. The coaching staff and everyone really dug in and hung together. With all of the hard times we have been going through this year, this was a very important game for us."

Campbell said that he was pleased the Tigers were able to hold off a Tide team that scored 14 quick points in the third quarter to turn what looked like it could be a rout into a close game. "We just stayed focused," he said. "I was proud of the way our guys kept a level head and kept working."

Auburn racked up 249 yards on the ground and 270 through the air while Alabama rushed for 111 and passed for 180.

"This game is for the fans," Tuberville said. "We fought all week long to fight off frustrations and rumors. This game is tough enough. We poured our heart and soul into this game. We've lost some games, but we fought hard all year long. We played hard, every snap, every game for four quarters win or lose."

Carnell Williams races 80 yards on the game's opening play for a touchdown.

Tuberville had high praise for the offensive line that allowed Auburn to average 7.6 yards per play and for the Cadillac, Carnell Williams, who rushed for 204 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns in his first chance to play four quarters against Bama.

"You could just see it in his eyes how much and how hard he wanted to play in this game," Tuberville said.

The head coach noted that he was also pleased with the defense. So was defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. "I am so proud of these kids," said Chizik. "They fought, and crawled and scratched their way to win."

Bama won the toss, but obviously wishes it hadn't. After a kickoff into the end zone, lightning struck on the first play as a handoff to the Cadillac went the distance with great blocks by Brandon Johnson, Danny Lindsey, Monreko Crittenden opening the hole and Jeris McIntyre running interference downfield. John Vaughn's PAT made the score 7-0 15 seconds into the action.

A long punt that backed Auburn up inside its own two led to points for the Tide. On Auburn's next play, Williams was tackled in the the zone for a safety by Anthony Bryant. That cut the gap to 7-2 with 11:50 to play in the first quarter.

Auburn used the big play to stretch the lead on its next possession On a third down, Ben Obomanu caught a short pass from Jason Campbell, bounced off would-be tacklers, kept his balance and raced for a touchdown with McIntyre escorting his fellow receiver into the end zone. Leading 13-2, Auburn decided on a two-point conversion play and running from the shotgun Campbell barely got the ball across the goal line to stretch the lead to 15-2 with 8:51 left in the first quarter.

The Tigers had a chance to score another first quarter touchdown, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal with 4:07 left in the quarter. John Vaughn made the kick to cap the eight-play, 72-yard drive after Auburn didn't have any luck scoring a TD after getting a first and goal at the five-yard line.

The second quarter was the period of missed opportunities for the Tigers who had a chance to score touchdowns on three different plays.

The first was on a hitch and go route to Obomanu, who blew past the defense for what would have been a sure touchdown. Campbell's pass was on target, but the sophomore dropped the football. That would have been a 55-yard score.

The second was even stranger. Cooper Wallace got behind the defense on a pass over the middle. As he was running to the end zone he dropped the football at the 10-yard line where the Tide recovered the unforced fumble.

Just before halftime, the Tigers let the Tide defense off the hook again when a fade route to Courtney Taylor bounced off his hands in the end zone and into the arms of diving safety Roman Harper. Campbell made the throw on first down at the Tide 14-yard line and the interception came with 31 seconds left in the half.

After two quarters the Tigers held a commanding 324 to 109 edge in total offense. The Auburn defense had controlled third down, limiting the Tide to one conversion in eight tries whole Auburn had converted four of six third down situations.

The Tide cut the gap to 18-9 when Brandon Brooks raced 96 yards with the second half kickoff.

The Tide then cut the gap to 18-16 with its best drive of the the night, moving 82 yards on eight plays. Shaud Williams scored the touchdown on a first and goal from the six.

AU blew another scoring opportunity when Campbell was intercepted in the end zone with 14:52 left in the final quarter. Auburn added some cushion after it converted a turnover into points as Will Herring's interception led to a 50-yard, eight-play drive that got cranking with a third and long conversion on a 23-yard sideline route pass to Jeris McIntyre.

Williams scored from a yard out with 7:27 left as the Tigers moved the ball on the ground with Cadillac and Ronnie Brown. That put the Tigers on top 28-16. That touchdown proved to be the winning margin.

"When we went out for that drive, we knew that we would probably need one more touchdown to make sure we won the game and that was the case," said sophomore offensive tackle Marcus McNeill. "I thought we did a lot good things on offense." Tuberville agreed, saying, "What a remarkable performance out of our offensive line. Just a great performance. I know Carnell got over 200 yards, but I am telling you that is the best we have blocked all year. We blocked and stayed on them. We played with emotion. We had a lot of second efforts. We made a lot of plays. This thing could have been over early, but the good Lord wanted us to go a little bit longer. That's the Iron Bowl."

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