Originally created 12/03/01

LSU beats Auburn to win trip to SEC championship game



BATON ROUGE, La. -- The crowd could hardly wait for the clock to run down.

Shouting, "Tennessee! Tennessee! Tenneese!" the LSU fans charged the field at Tiger Stadium, many of them lighting cigars, eager to celebrate a 27-14 victory over Auburn and LSU's first-ever trip to the Southeastern Conference championship game.

"It's all about this, the SEC championship," said LSU quarterback Rohan Davey, who threw for 245 yards and a touchdown, dodged Auburn defenders, and oversaw an offense that put up 431 total yards.

LSU (8-3, 5-3) finished the season as co-champion of the SEC West with Auburn (7-4, 5-3), but advanced to the championship game by winning the tiebreaker. The victory also boosted the Tigers to No. 21.

It is the third time LSU has been co-champion, but the first that it has advanced to the title game. LSU will play Tennessee, which upset Florida in the SEC East.

Auburn, the defending SEC West champion, watched its grip on the outright title slip away with late season losses to Arkansas and Alabama.

"At the beginning of the year, 7-4 would have been a great year," said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. "But obviously we're disappointed that this happened once we got to this point."

LSU was the preseason favorite to win the SEC West. But just a month ago, LSU lost to Mississippi and that prediction looked doubtful. Since the Ole Miss loss, however, LSU won four straight to re-emerge as a contender.

Both of LSU's last two games were must-win situations. A loss in either would have knocked them out of the race.

"We challenged our players in the last two games, and they answered the bell, so I'm really proud of the way we did it," said LSU coach Nick Saban. "A lot of guys played a lot of good football."

The Auburn-LSU rivalry has grown in intensity, fueled by a series of close games. For LSU it reached the boiling point two years ago when Auburn won 41-7 in Baton Rouge. After the game Tuberville handed out cigars to his players and they lit up right there on LSU's turf.

"I think it was disrespectful," said Davey, who was 4-of-11 with two interceptions before being chased from the 1999 game against Auburn. "If you win, take it because you were the better team on that night. To me, it was a slap in our face."

LSU got more motivation when Auburn ended their pre-game warmup by dancing on the tiger eye painted midfield. They also got a break when Auburn was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and accessed a 15-yard penalty on the opening kickoff. LSU recovered an onside kick on the Auburn' 36 and scored six plays later on LaBrandon Toefield's 2-yard run. The touchdown was Toefield's 19th of the season, tying him for the SEC record held by Garrison Hearst and Shaun Alexander.

LSU led 21-7 at halftime as Davey hit Josh Reed with a 17-yard touchdown pass and Domanick Davis had a 7-yard TD run.

Auburn limited LSU to a pair of field goals in the second half, but could only add one more touchdown.

"That's the best we've played on defense this year," Saban said.

LSU held the football over 10 minutes longer than Auburn.

"We were trying to stop the running game, but that's hard to do when they have Josh Reed out there," Tuberville said. "We tried to hit him coming off the line of scrimmage ever time, and most times we did. When we were able to get our hands on him, we were pretty successful in keeping his hands off the ball, but when he was able to get off the line without us getting hands on him, he was at another level."

Reed finished with 186 yards on 10 receptions, his 10th 100-yard game of the year. He also became the first receiver in SEC history to surpass the 1,500-yard mark in a season. Reed has 1,680 for the year.

The crowd stayed on the field an hour after the game, although police packed six-deep around the goal posts thwarted halfhearted attempts to knock them down. The parties in the parking lots went on for hours.

The players' celebration was a lot shorter. Minutes after the game ended they were already talking about the title game and Tennessee, which beat them 26-18 earlier in the season.

"We are playing much better now than when we played Tennessee the first time," Reed said. "It's a confidence thing. We just know we have put everything together. If we're good in all aspects of the game then good things will happen."