ATLANTA — Tre Mason ran for 304 yards and four touchdowns, leading No. 3 Auburn to a wild 59-42 victory over No. 5 Missouri in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game on Saturday.
Auburn (12-1) is likely headed to the BCS championship game after No. 2 Ohio State lost to Michigan State 34-24 in the Big Ten Championship Game. The Tigers are likely headed to Pasadena to face top-ranked Florida State, which routed Duke 45-7 in the Atlantic Coast Championship Game.
“We deserve it,” receiver Sammie Coates said. “We won the SEC championship. What else do you want us to do?”
Auburn set an SEC Championship Game record with 677 yards, including 545 on the ground. Mason had scoring runs of 7, 3 and 1 yards before bursting up the middle on a 13-yard TD that clinched the victory with 4:22 remaining. He carried the ball 46 times, an easy choice as the game’s MVP.
“You’re looking at one of the top running backs in college football,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “He was a warrior today. Unbelievable.”
In a game where neither team played defense, Auburn finally stopped Missouri on fourth-and-1 deep in its own territory, setting up Mason’s final score.
Chris Davis broke up the pass – not quite as thrilling as his 109-yard return of a missed field goal to beat Alabama – but another huge play.
Auburn, which was 3-9 a year ago and didn’t win a game in the SEC, claimed the title in its first year under Malzahn. The Tigers held Missouri scoreless in the final quarter while Mason notched two more touchdowns to break open a close game.
Missouri had its own impressive rebound after struggling its first year in the SEC. But coach Gary Pinkel’s team was denied a quick championship in its new league after leaving the Big 12, unable to slow – must less top – Auburn’s dynamic offense.
“There’s a real frustration that comes over you on defense when they’re coming after you over and over and over again,” Pinkel said. “We had trouble stopping it, obviously, and couldn’t get it fixed.”
James Franklin passed for 303 yards and three touchdowns, while Dorial Green-Beckham hauled in six passes for 144 yards and a couple of scores. Missouri piled up 534 yards – the teams combined for 1,211 yards in a conference supposedly known for defense – but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Missouri (11-2) should be in the mix for a New Year’s Day bowl, with the Capital One, Cotton and Outback games among the possible destinations.
Coming into the game, Missouri was one of the top teams in the nation against the run and ranked second in the SEC behind Alabama. The most yards they had given up on the ground was 184 the previous week in a victory over 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.
Mason had more yards than that in the first half, putting up 195 by the time he trotted to the locker room and just 6 yards off the SEC Championship Game record. He broke the mark set by LSU’s Justin Vincent in 2003 on the second play of the second half – and kept right on going from there.
Auburn recovered a surprise onside kick in the first half, though it didn’t lead to any points, and Missouri took advantage of a two fumbles by Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, both caused by defensive end Kony Ealy. The first turnover led to Andrew Baggett’s 42-yard field goal. The second was scooped up by E.J. Gaines, who returned it 11 yards for a touchdown.
Marshall shook off the mistakes, running for 101 yards and a touchdown and completing 9 of 11 for 132 yards and another score.
The lead changed hands five times before Auburn eased ahead 28-20 on a lightning-quick 79-yard drive, needing only four plays and 53 seconds to set up Mason’s 3-yard scoring run.
Auburn had a chance to seize control, forcing a Missouri punt and hurrying back to its end of the field. After Mason was stuffed for no gain, Auburn curiously started throwing the ball. Two screens to Sammie Coates were resulted in a loss of 5 yards total, and Auburn was called for holding on a deep throw. The Tigers wound up punting, giving Missouri one more chance to pull closer with a little over a minute remaining before halftime.
Franklin took advantage. He guided Missouri out to the 45 before going deep, hitting Green-Beckham in stride for a 55-yard touchdown with 18 seconds remaining. Missouri kicked the extra point and trailed 28-27 at the break.