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It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over For The Tigers

By Mark Murphy

A match-up that looked like it had plenty of potential to produce points turned into a defensive struggle with just one touchdown. But, for the Auburn Tigers, oh what a score!

Ryan Taylor and Charles Dorsey
Ryan Taylor and Charles Dorsey high-low Daunte Culpepper.
A 58-yard pass play from freshman Gabe Gross to senior Karsten Bailey with 57 seconds left rallied the Tigers from a 6-3 deficit and enabled Auburn to win its third game of a disappointing season. For Central Florida, it was a devastating loss in a contest the visitors had led since the opening possession. The Golden Knights came into the game with a 7-1 record, a chance to advance the Heisman Trophy candidacy of their record-setting quarterback Daunte Culpepper and position themselves for a postseason bowl.

However, a miscue by UCF's star after the visitors had taken control of the contest with what looked like it would be a game-clinching drive opened the door for the improbable rally. Redshirt freshman inside linebacker Whit Smith, filling in for injured starters James Callier and Tavarreus Pounds, who both went down in the first half, gave the Tigers hope by falling on the fumble at the Auburn 29 with just 1:43 left.

Four players later, Auburn was still at the 29 after a near interception, a dropped pass by Clifton Robinson and a deflected pass. However, Gross and Robinson hooked up for what quarterback coach Jimbo Fisher called "a huge confidence builder" on a 13-yard sideline route that stopped the clock and set the stage for the game-winner.

Karsten Bailey
Gross hits Bailey for six.
Gross attacked the same sideline on the next play. This time the results were even better when the Tigers caught the Golden Knights in one-on-one coverage in a blitz. Gross drilled the pass on the money and Bailey made Senior Day a happy one for his teammates when he broke free of a would-be tackler, who grabbed his face mask. The foot race to the end zone was no contest as the speedy wideout was able to trot the final yards after managing not to step out of bounds as he raced down the sideline. Those left in a crowd of 80,743 unleashed a roar built up during an afternoon of offensive frustration.

That play gave Auburn a 10-6 victory on a day when the Tigers managed to improve their record to 3-6 despite gaining just 240 total yards against a defense that had not reminded anyone of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the former NFL team that UCF coach Mike Kruczek had played for as a quarterback. Gabe Gross completed 11-30 passes for 152 yards with one interception. Auburn netted 88 yards on 25 running plays. Central Florida gained 96 yards on 46 runs, including seven quarterback sacks. Culpepper hit 24-37 passes for 182 yards.

Although the offense made the dramatic play to pull out the win, the defense deserved the lion's share of credit for coming up with five turnovers, including two interceptions by Larry Casher, one by Rob Pate and another by Jayson Bray. Central Florida's run and shoot offense was able to move the chains for 22 first downs to just 12 for Auburn, but it stalled in the red zone and had to settle for a pair of chip shot field goals for its only points. One came in the first quarter and the other 3:45 prior to halftime.

[Haven Fields] Linebacker Haven Fields is the Inside the Auburn Tigers Player of the Game with 12 tackles in a 10-6 victory over Central Florida. Fields saw his most extensive playing time of the season with injuries to Tavarreus Pounds and James Callier, who is lost for the season. Fields was credited with seven solo tackles, two quarterback sacks and another tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
Central Florida, which averaged 39 points and 527.5 yards per game, netted just 278 yards against an Auburn defense that continues to play solid football. Interim head coach Bill Oliver had plenty of good things to say about AU's defense, but was unhappy with the offense. Oliver said, "We didn't block, we didn't catch, we didn't throw or do anything until we had to have it at the end. That's the best way to sum it up. We didn't have much imagination."

An interception by Pate led to Auburn's first points, a 44-yard field goal by Robert Bironas following a 21-yard, seven-play drive aided by a pass interference call on a third down. That cut the gap to 6-3 with 6:01 left in the third quarter.

After the defense stopped UCF with a Casher interception at the Auburn two and forced a 25-yard punt, the Tigers looked like they would have a chance to tie the game or take the lead early in the fourth quarter. After marching from their own 30 to the Central Florida 32, Gross threw a short pass to wide open Rusty Williams, who says he was thinking touchdown on the play. However, he fumbled in the secondary and teammate Bailey was unable to come up with the ball at the UCF 20.

The Tigers would get the football back just two more times. The first was at their own two after an unfortunate bounce on a punt that looked to be heading into the end zone. The other was following Culpepper's fumble that proved to be the mostly costly of the five UCF turnovers.

After the game, UCF's coach, Mike Kruczek, said, "We let one slip through our fingers again and it hurts. We flat gave it away." Auburn's Oliver agreed, "Their whole team did a great job. We knew they would be fired up. They deserved to win the football game and we were very fortunate to hold them to six points."

Auburn returns to SEC action in its final home game of the season with a 6:30 p.m kickoff against the 6-2 Georgia Bulldogs. The game will be televised by ESPN.

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