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Sugar Bowl: Auburn gets sweet victory
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Auburn filled in a piece of its improbable championship puzzle by hanging on in the Sugar Bowl, though it was hardly a masterpiece.
Jason Campbell threw a touchdown pass, John Vaughn kicked three short field goals and No. 3 Auburn completed a perfect season with a 16-13 victory over ninth-ranked Virginia Tech last night.
But was it enough for the Tigers to share the national title in college football?
Auburn (13-0) had a couple of second-half turnovers and gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass with 2:01 left — a major blow to its hopes of swaying the voters to split No. 1 again.
Not that the Tigers were willing to concede anything to the winner of today's Orange Bowl between No. 1 USC and No. 2 Oklahoma.
"Neither team is better than us," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We'll play them anytime, anywhere."
Virginia Tech (10-3) could have made things easier on the Bowl Championship Series by upsetting Auburn. But the Hokies had a couple of major blunders, dropping a pass in the end zone and missing a chip-shot field goal.
When Bryan Randall threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Josh Morgan with 6:58 left in the game, ruining the shutout, one could almost sense USC, Oklahoma and — especially — BCS officials were breathing a little easier.
Randall dealt another blow to the Tigers when he threw the long touchdown pass to Morgan, surely costing a few more votes.
Auburn recovered the onside kick and kneeled down to run out the clock, deciding to preserve the victory rather than try to win more impressively.
"I just wanted to win by one," said Tuberville, who nearly lost his job at the end of last season. "That's all that counts. If you have to win with style points, you might as well throw out all the systems."
Campbell was named the game's most valuable player after completing 11 of 16 passes for 189 yards with one interception. Randall threw for 299 yards but was picked off twice.
"People just don't understand how hard it is to go 13-0," Campbell said. "I'm not going to sit here and say we're No. 2 behind anybody."
The odd team out in a troika of teams with 12-0 records in the regular season, Auburn settled for a spot in the Sugar Bowl against the Hokies, while USC and Oklahoma were tapped for the Orange Bowl — the BCS title game.
Nothing ever seems to work out smoothly in Division I-A football, the only college sport that insists on using a mix of polls and bowls to determine its champion rather than settling things with a playoff.
Auburn's hopes are based on this rather convoluted scenario: The Tigers defeat Virginia Tech convincingly, Oklahoma knocks off USC in an ugly Orange Bowl and enough voters in the Associated Press media poll pick Auburn as the No. 1 team, creating another split champion.
Last season, USC was voted No. 1 by the AP after winning the Rose Bowl, while Louisiana State won the BCS title by beating Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
The overlooked Hokies hurt themselves with two major miscues. Jesse Allen dropped a sure touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal at the 1 midway through the second quarter. Brandon Pace yanked a 23-yard field-goal attempt just left of the upright early in the fourth quarter.
"Well, we played hard, we just didn't play well enough," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
Carnell Williams, half of Auburn's heralded running-back duo, was held to 61 yards rushing. He also fumbled in the fourth quarter when the Tigers, leading 16-0, were driving for the touchdown that could have made the victory more convincing.
Auburn had a chance to blow it open in the first half, too, but went 0 for 3 from inside the Virginia Tech 10. The Tigers had to settle for three field goals by Vaughn, who connected from 23, 19 and 24 yards for a 9-0 lead.
After taking the second-half kickoff, Auburn finally drove all the way to the end zone. The biggest play was on third-and-16, when Campbell scrambled near the Virginia Tech sideline and spotted Anthony Mix breaking open, connecting with him on a 53-yard pass.
Then, on third-and-two from the Virginia Tech 5, Campbell froze the linebackers with play action and hit Devin Aromashodu on a quick slant over the middle for Auburn's touchdown.
It would be the Tigers' lone TD, hardly the sort of definitive statement they hoped to make with the nation — and most of those crucial voters — watching.
"It was a defensive battle," Tuberville said.
That wasn't surprising. Auburn gave up fewer points per game than any team in the country; Virginia Tech was just two spots behind in the national rankings.
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company