Tigers Succumb to Devine Intervention

Auburn had no answer for West Virginia's offense as the home team rallied from a two-touchdown deficit.

Morgantown, West Virginia--Auburn built a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter and watched the West Virginia Mountaineers steadily whittle away that advantage before the defense collapsed in the second half as the Tigers fell 34-17 on Thursday night.

The offense struggled in the second half, but the defense was embarrassed by the Mountaineers who came into the game with concerns about their offensive production. However, after the final whistle blew the home team had burned the Tigers with 271 rushing yards in the SEC vs. Big East football matchup.

Sophomore Noel Devine was the ring-leader for the Mountaineers gaining 207 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries. Time after time he slipped away from would-be tackles for extra yardage.

Quarterback Pat White hit 13-21 passes for 174 yards and three scores to go with two interceptions.

"I believe we tackled horrendously," Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said, something that all 60,765 fans at Milan Puskar Stadium could see.

Rhoads' group that had played like Tigers much of the season didn't show their teeth in the nationally-televised game as the Tigers gave up 445 yards to the Mountaineers.

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville, whose team lost its third straight game to drop to 4-4, said, "We played with a lot of emotion the first half and we came out and just didn't have answers for the quarterback and the fast running back. They are a good football team. That is the best one we have played."

Tuberville said he didn't fault his team's effort. He said WVU's ability to run the ball put the Tigers on their heels defensively and opened up the passing game. "We couldn't stop the run in a four-man front," he said. "They just outran us. We couldn't tackle and then we started blitzing and obviously turned a couple of receivers over--we missed some tackles."

Auburn, which showed promise offensively in the first half with 176 net yards at intermission, gained just 84 yards combined in the third and fourth quarters to finish the night with 260 net yards.

"We came out strong in the first half and played well," said running back Mario Fannin. "In the second half we came out and didn't convert that first drive," he said, noting that has been a trend for the Tigers. He said that is "something that has been haunting us all season."

West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart said, "I saw confidence oozing out of everyone tonight. The boys were under pressure. Our guys strained and they wore the old gold and blue proudly tonight."

Stewart said he liked his team's defensive effort. "They played to win," he said. "They played aggressive."

West Virginia got off to a strong start offensively, but Josh Bynes changed the momentum by intercepting a White pass after the Mountaineers had driven from their 40 to the AU 12.

Auburn took over at the 17 and kept the ball for 20 plays, converting four of five third downs.

Key plays on the drive were a 14-yard pass to Tommy Trott to convert a third and six from the AU 37, a 13-yard keeper by Burns to convert a third and nine from the WVU 14 and an 11-yard run by Mario Fannin to give the Tigers a first and goal at the three.

However, Fannin and Brad Lester runs netted just one yard each time and on third and goal Fannin was stopped for a yard loss trying to power in behind the fullback at right guard. Wes Byrum got the call and made a 19-yard field goal to put the visitors up 3-0 after driving 80 yards on 20 plays.

The Tigers quickly added to the lead with another interception setting up points. This time White was picked off by Walter McFadden, whose 18-yard return put the Tigers in business at the West Virginia 27.

From there Burns rushed for five and six yards for a first down. The touchdown came on a third down and 11 call from the 18 after the Tigers had a delay of game. A perfectly executed screen pass to Brad Lester went the distance, putting the Tigers up 10-0 with 13:25 left in the first half.

Brad Lester scores for the Tigers.

West Virginia bounced back with a quick drive for three points moving 67 yards in just six plays. Pat McAfee's 23-yard field goal narrowed the lead to 10-3 with 10:58 left in the half.

Less than a minute later the Tigers were up 17-3. Mario Fannin's 69-yard kickoff return put the Tigers in great field position at the WVU 31.

On the first play of the possession, Burns hooked up with running back Tristan Davis, who ran a deep sideline route and the play covered 22 yards.

The Tigers scored on the next play as Burns ran into the end zone from nine yards out on a bootleg around left end.

On the kickoff, Auburn executed an onside kick with Wes Byrum falling on his kickoff at the AU 44. However, the Tigers couldn't move the ball and punted it back to the Mountaineers, who started at their own 22 after the punt into a stiff wind by Clinton Durst went out of bounds 34 yards downfield.

West Virginia wasted little time cutting the lead to 17-10 by moving 78 yards on four plays. Devine got the drive started with a six-yard run and two plays later ran for 20 more. On the next play, White hooked up with Alric Arnett for a 44-yard touchdown pass as the receiver got behind safety Mike McNeil. That ended the first half scoring with 6:37 left in the second quarter.

Auburn received the third quarter kickoff going into the wind and punted after a three-and-out as Burns and Tim Hawthorne just missed on a sideline route that Hawthorne caught on the boundary line.

West Virginia then moved 34 yards on nine plays with the help of a questionable pass interference call to set up a 42-yard field goal by McAfee to cut the Auburn lead to 17-13 with 10:45 left in the third period.

The Mountaineers took the lead with 4:06 left in the third quarter on a two-yard pass to Dorrell Jalloh to cap an 11-play, 93-yard drive as Auburn's tackling regressed.

Auburn had a chance to tie the game less than a minute into the fourth quarter, but Byrum's 44-yard field goal was wide left.

WVU then moved 73 yards on just five plays with Jalloh scored on a 32-yard pass play with 11:44 left to make the score 27-17. After the Auburn offense couldn't rise to the occasion the only question in the closing minutes was how big would the final margin be.

The Mountaineers added insult to injury with another score with just 2:28 to play as Devin ran through a large hole on a 30-yard gainer to make the final score 34-17 and improve his team's record to 5-2.


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