A Football Game Worth Remembering

Phillip Marshall writes about the significance of Auburn's SEC victory over the LSU Tigers.

Jason Campbell really shouldn't have had to prove anything.

He'd directed game-winning drives in the fourth quarter in previous games, including on three straight Saturdays as a redshirt freshman in 2001. He'd done all he could against Ole Miss in 2003 and Florida in 2002 only to come up empty because of teammates' mistakes.

In his last 22 games as a starter, Campbell is 6-4 against Top 10 teams and 10-2 against everyone else. He will leave Auburn as the most accurate passer in school history. But in the eyes of many--none of whom are his teammates or coaches--Campbell did have something to prove. If he didn't prove it Saturday, he never will.

Jason Campbell and the Tigers are off to a 2-0 start in the conference and are ranked in the Top 10.

Under the most intense pressure imaginable, against a defense as strong as any in college football, Campbell told his teammates "Follow me." When Campbell threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Courtney Taylor on third-and-12 with 1:14 left, the noise was as loud as I have ever heard it at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"What a stud," running backs coach Eddie Gran said as he puffed on a victory cigar Sunday morning. "He's a fifth-year senior, and he's playing like it and acting like it. The kids on this team have so much confidence in him it's unbelievable. They know he's going to be there and he's going to fight."

It was an epic struggle that Auburn won 10-9 Saturday. It truly was an old-fashioned kind of football game, one in which defense dominated and field position was all-important. It will surely be long remembered by those who played, those who coached and those who watched.

The victory was significant for Auburn in many ways. It was, of course, very significant in the race for the Southeastern Conference West Division championship. It was significant because the Tigers showed they could come from behind in the fourth quarter against an outstanding team. It was significant for the rebuilt defense. The Tiger defenders knew for the better part of three quarters they couldn't afford to give up another point, and they didn't.

It certainly wasn't a flawless performance. Ten points won't win many SEC games. It's not a good idea to let an opponent drive 80 yards on its first possession. It's certainly not a good idea to do those things against a team as immensely talented as is LSU.

But Auburn players came to Jordan-Hare Stadium to win. They were going to do it or give their last ounce of sweat and energy trying. The Tigers gave as good as they got, but it seemed as the hour grew late that LSU would hang on.

That was before the defense made one more stop, before Campbell, Taylor, Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams and friends finally went and got the touchdown they had to have.

The drama wasn't over, far from it. After a bouncing snap, John Vaughn missed the extra point. For agonizing moments on the Auburn sideline, it seemed the game was headed for overtime, but holder Sam Rives was pointing. A flag was on the ground. LSU had been called for a personal foul. A new NCAA rule, passed by the committee of which LSU coach Nick Saban is a member, says it's a personal foul if a defender on a kick leaps into the air across the line of scrimmage and comes down on an offensive player. That's what Ronnie Prude did.

On the second try, Rives got another bouncing snap down and Vaughn kicked it through. When Junior Rosegreen intercepted JaMarcus Russell's pass with nine seconds left, it was over.

Saban was scowling on his sideline and scowling as he left the field. He whined about the personal foul call, saying in so many words it shouldn't have been called. He whined some more Sunday, saying it was a cheap way to lose a game.

Really? Was it a cheap way to win two weeks earlier when Oregon State missed, count 'em, three extra points and the Beavers were twice called for defensive holding in overtime? Was last season's 17-14 win at Ole Miss cheap because Jonathan Nichols, the league's best kicker, missed two makeable field goal tries? Was a 17-10 win over Georgia cheap because Billy Bennett missed three field tries?

Nick Saban saw his team's 10-game winning streak end on Saturday in Auburn.

And if Auburn's win was "cheap," how cheap was LSU's win over Kentucky in 2002 on a final-play Hail Mary pass that had never even worked in practice?

Saban has revived the once-staggering LSU program. With last season's national championship and an SEC championship in 2001, he is widely considered one of the nation's top coaches. His team is as talented as any in the country.

Saban, no doubt, doesn't like being 2-3 against Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. He doesn't like being 0-3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. He doesn't like that his team now faces an uphill climb to return to the SEC Championship Game.

His players showed the same fighting spirit Saturday that Auburn players showed. They could leave the field knowing they had fought until the end.

Saban? He showed not much class and a whole lot of gall.


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