"We showed a lot of heart out there and that is what it took to win that game," said junior linebacker Josh Bynes, who led all tacklers with 10 solo stops and two assists. "We didn't get discouraged when we got down early. We knew it was going to be a three-hour fight so we hung in there and came out on top."
The victory was particularly sweet for members of the Auburn defense who played West Virginia last year in Morgantown where the defense collapsed in the second half as the Mountaineers rallied for a 34-17 victory.
"It feels great that we came out and played so well in the second half and were able to create turnovers," Bynes said. "We went out in the second half like Coach (Ted Roof) told us, by playing on our toes and being ready to strike, and that made a difference."
Bynes got the final interception of the night in the closing seconds, but it was fellow linebacker Craig Stevens who made the really big second half interception with just over four minutes to play and the game on the line.
He picked off a Jarrett Brown screen pass and rumbled 15 yards for a touchdown, running over a would-be tackler in the process. Auburn was holding a nervous 34-30 lead at the time after Adams caught his third touchdown pass with 12:07 left to play, a 17-yarder from Todd that was set up by an intercepted pass by defensive tackle Jake Ricks.
"We made a lot of big plays on defense and I was glad to make one," said Ricks. "We stayed together even when they were up 4-0. They got off to an early jump, but we stayed together as a team. Nobody put their head down and we pushed through it."
Walt McFadden and Neiko Thorpe also got interceptions for the Tigers. The turnovers were the difference in the game on a night the Tigers couldn't get their running game in high gear.
For the game the Tigers were out-gained 509-400 as the Mountaineers picked up 221 yards passing from Brown plus 128 rushing yards and three touchdowns by tailback Noel Devine, who burned Auburn last year for 207 yards. Brown also helped the Mountaineers with his feet. The QB ran the ball 18 times for 83 yards and netted 66 for the game.
Auburn head coach Gene Chizik thanked the fans who stayed at Jordan-Hare Stadium despite an hour long lightning delay. "I would like to say that I wish I had 87,000 game balls because our fans were a huge reason we won that game and I want them to know that. We had thousands of students to stay here through that whole thing."
Darvin Adams scores a touchdown for the Tigers.
West Virginia obviously handled the rain delay much better than Tigers, who fell behind quickly.
On the third play of the game, a third down and long, the Mountaineers went very long. Brown showed his strong arm by throwing a 58-yard pass to Tyler Urban who caught the ball at the Auburn one after getting behind safety Zac Etheridge. Two plays later, Devine scored up the middle to put the visitors up 7-0 with 12:52 left in the opening quarter.
Auburn managed a first down on its opening possession, but punted the ball to the Mountaineers who scored more quickly than they did on their first possession.
After Brown ran around end for eight yards, Devine found a seam in the middle of the defense and raced 71 yards for a TD to make the score 14-0 less than five minutes into the game.
Auburn got on the scoreboard with a drive that covered 38 yards on nine plays as Wes Byrum hit a 46-yard field goal with 7:24 left in the opening quarter.
Auburn went to work with Todd and Adams making the big plays. The QB hit Adams for a 19-yard pass to the WVU 16 and on the next play the wide receiver caught the ball at the goal line and slipped inside the pylon for a touchdown. That cut the WVU lead to 14-10 with 5:16 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers needed another defensive stand, but WVU answered Auburn's touchdown with one of its own. The Mountaineers moved the football 74 yards on eight plays with Brown throwing a screen pass play to Jock Sanders for the final six yards on the drive. That put WVU up 21-10 with 2:01 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers were out-gained 219-99 yards in first quarter, but closed the gap in that statistic and the scoreboard by halftime by outscoring the Mountaineers 10-0 in the period and out-gaining them 110-72.
The Tigers cut the lead to 21-13 following an exchange of interceptions. Todd was picked by Ovid Garrison, who gave the the Mountaineers great field position at the Auburn 19 after a 13-yard return. However, two plays later Thorpe intercepted a pass thrown by Brown and returned it 22 yards to the AU 32. Auburn drove the ball 43 yards on six plays before settling for a 42-yard Byrum field goal. The Tigers got 37 of those yards on a pass to Eric Smith.
The Tigers, as they did in the first two games, put points on the scoreboard just before intermission. This time Adams scored on a four-yard pass play. Todd found the wide receiver in the back of the end zone despite tight coverage. Instead of going for two, the Tigers kicked the PAT and trailed 21-20 after Auburn moved the football 68 yards in 11 plays.
Auburn got the ball to start the second half, but as was the case in their opening possession of the first quarter the Tigers managed just one first down before punting. The Mountaineers then put together an impressive drive moving 76 yards on eight plays. Devine scored from 12-yards out on third and one at right guard, but the PAT was wide leaving the lead at 27-20.
The Tigers answered almost immediately with a two-play TD drive. The big one was a swing pass to Mario Fannin, who split two defenders on the corner and raced 82 yards for the score. Wes Byrum's PAT kick tied the game.
Mario Fannin races 82 yards for a TD.
The West Virginia offense regained the lead on the next possession by driving 52 yards on 14 plays before going up 30-27 with 1:07 left in the third quarter on a 28-yard field goal by Tyler Bitancurt.
Auburn moved the ball into WVU territory, but stalled at the 37 when the Tigers failed to convert fourth and four as a Todd pass to the sideline was too short for Terrell Zachery.
However, the Tigers got the football back on an interception by Ricks, who returned the ball 21 yards to the West Virginia 19. Then, three plays later with 12:07 left, Adams caught his third TD of the game from Todd to put the Tigers up 34-30. Stevens added the insurance TD as Auburn improved to 3-0 and West Virginia fell to 2-1.