This time, the Gators chomped down and didn't let the Tigers get away as Florida pulled out a 30-23 overtime victory on Saturday night in the finale of the regular season series between the Gators and Tigers that has been played annually since 1944.
In a series that has featured many wild finishes, this one ranked as one of the wilder ones as the Tigers, minus their star player Carnell Williams, rallied from a 23-7 second half deficit with the Cadillac's replacement leading away. Also helping lead the charge was backup quarterback Jason Campbell, who led the Tigers to two second half touchdowns for 16 points to tie the game at 23-23 with the sophomore quarterback converting a pair of two-point conversion plays on QB keepers.
However, the game ended in overtime when he came up short on fourth down and five at the Gator 20 when he couldn't find a receiver open on a pass play and tried to run. That was the ball game because the Gators had converted their third down and 10 play from the 25 moments earlier as Rex Grossman hit his star receiver Taylor Jacobs in the back of the end zone as he was being hit by defensive lineman Dexter Murphy.
"We played zone coverage and they stuck the post on us and made a great play," said Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. That TD was the longest pass play of the night for the Gators.
"We adjusted in the second half and the kids did the things we asked them to do," said Chizik, explaining how the defense limited the Gators to a pair of second half field goals after allowing 17 first half points. "We just didn't make the play at the end there. That is what ended up happening."
Brown scored all three of Auburn's touchdowns. He gained 163 yards on 22 carries and added one touchdown reception for 54 yards. That came with 5:05 left on the first play after the Tigers had gotten the football back following a Gator. Campbell found the tailback as a safety valve. Brown says he saw clear field ahead. He made one Gator miss and set the stage for the dramatic finish after Campbell scored two points on a rollout run.
With 13:38 left in the half after a Brown one-yard run to cap a five-play, 50-yard drive, Campbell scored on a QB draw to pull to within one touchdown and a conversion at 23-15.
Auburn had a chance to win the game in regulation when the Tigers stuffed tailback Ran Carthon for no gain on fourth and inches at the Gator 42. The Tigers got the ball with 3:13 to play and moved it to the Florida six yard line where Duval was called on to beat the Gators for a second straight season with a field goal in the final seconds. This one, a 23-yarder in the middle of the field, was low and was blocked. Duval said he thought he hit the ball well when it left his foot.
"We didn't get cranked up until the second quarter, but when we did we played well," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "It was an excellent game. Both sides gave great effort. That is basically all you can say about this game. There were some mistakes made, but this was a good, hard-nosed in the trenches game. They have got a good football team. No. 8 (Grossman) was the difference. We stayed after him all night. We caught him some and didn't some. I wish they would change that grounding rule for a night. It was frustrating.
"We have a bunch of guys over in our locker room who are mentally and physically wore out," Tuberville added. "They laid it on the line after all the ridicule they took last week. They made plays when they had to. We had an opportunity to win, just like last year."
The Gators dominated time of possession in the first half with the opening possession of the game setting the tone. An 80-yard drive that featured 14 plays burned almost half of the opening quarter. Grossman hit wide open tight end Aaron Walker for the touchdown from 13 yards out.
Freshman noseguard T.J. Jackson chases Rex Grossman.
After a quick three and out for Auburn, the home team scored again, moving 68 yards on seven plays. Much of the damage on the drive was from the running of backup QB Ingle Martin, who pitched the ball to tailback Earnest Graham for a two-yard TD run with 12:55 left in the second quarter.
The Tigers' situation went from bad to worse on the next possession. On second down, Carnell Williams gained one yard but was lost with an injury. He has a broken fibula and is out for the rest of the season. After the Cadillac was carted off the field, Ronnie Brown got the call and the ball. He burst through a gap for 13 yards on third and short to jump-start what turned into a touchdown drive. That was a preview of coming attractions.
A 22-yard pass to tight end Robert Johnson moved the Tigers into Gator territory. Brown cut the gap to 14-7 by powering over right guard on fourth down and less than a yard. He wasn't stopped and scored from 26 yards out.
Auburn got the ball back in horrible field position with 3:04 left in the half inside its own one after a punt rolled out of bounds into the coffin corner. That set the stage for the strangest series of the night.
On first down, Cobb missed Johnson over the middle and then burrowed out to the three on a QB sneak. On third down, a short slant pass over the middle to Devin Aromashodu got the Tigers some punting room at the eight, but the Tigers decided not to punt the ball. Damon Duval had one man to beat at right end as he tried to run from punt formation, but was tackled for no gain on fourth and two.
Jason Campbell scores on the first two-point conversion for the Tigers.
Tuberville said that he thought the gamble was a good one because the Gators would have got the ball back around the Tiger 35 if Duval had punted with a one-step punt out of the end zone. The Auburn coach said he thought the odds of making the first down on fourth and three were good.
The Auburn defense then had its best stand of the half. After a delay of game penalty, the Gators kept going backwards with a running play that lost yardage and an intentional grounding call on Grossman. The Gators did manage a 48-yard field goal on the play to stretch the lead to 17-7 with 19 seconds left in the second quarter.
At the break, the Tigers had just 7:31 in time of possession to 22:29 for the Gators and had been outgained 199 to 91, but the Tigers outplayed Florida in the second half. However, the missed chip shot field goal gave the Gators a second chance to keep from blowing their 23-7 second half lead and they took advantage of the opportunity to win overtime.
Player of the Game: Ronnie Brown put on a show in three quarters of action. "When he got his opportunity he made all of it," Tuberville said. "It was a tremendous effort. Our offensive line blocked well, too."
Key to Gator Victory: Turnover prone Florida dropped the ball four times, but didn't have a turnover. Auburn fumbled the ball twice and lost it twice. Before the game, Tuberville said the turnovers would likely be the big statistic in determining the winner.
Key to Gator Victory Part II: The Gators kept the Auburn offense on the sideline much of the night with a nearly 17-minute edge in time of possession.
New Starting QB?: Tuberville says the decision will be made on Sunday after studying game video. Bobby Petrino said the same thing, too, so it won't be surprising to see Campbell start vs. LSU next week.