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(Saturday, December 4th)
Final Score: (2) Auburn 56, (18) South Carolina 17
Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - Auburn didn't need a comeback in the SEC Championship Game, convincingly rolling over South Carolina, 56-17, to all but guarantee a shot at the national title.
Cam Newton was once again the catalyst behind the blowout, throwing for four touchdowns and running in two more to solidify his Heisman Trophy campaign.
Newton, ruled eligible earlier this week despite the NCAA finding his father at fault for rules violations during his recruitment, connected on 17-of-28 passes for a career-high 335 yards while adding 73 yards on the ground, carrying No. 2 Auburn (13-0) to its seventh SEC title.
Darvin Adams was Newton's favorite target, catching seven passes for 217 yards and two scores, including a fortunate 51-yard grab on a Hail Mary heave that gave the Tigers a 28-14 halftime lead.
"Our football team is probably one of the most resilient groups I've seen in 25 years of doing this," said Gene Chizik, who in his second year at the helm can lead Auburn to its first national title since 1957. "Everything they got tonight they deserved. They worked extremely hard the last few months to be able to get to this point."
Waiting for the Tigers in the BCS title game in Glendale, Arizona on January 10 is top-ranked Oregon, which wrapped up its undefeated regular season with a 37-20 win over Oregon State earlier in the day. The Ducks were narrowly behind Auburn in the latest BCS standings, while fellow unbeaten TCU was a distant third.
Stephen Garcia was unable to pull off an upset for a South Carolina (9-4) squad appearing in its first SEC title game, throwing for 170 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which T'Sharvan Bell returned for a score. The 18th-ranked Gamecocks were outgained, 589-349.
Coming into the game, Auburn had trailed in eight of its 12 victories and rallied from double-digit deficits four times, including a 28-27 triumph over arch-rival Alabama last week after being down 24-7 at the break.
It got close Saturday after South Carolina put together a successful two- minute drill to pull within 21-14 late in the first half. On the ninth play of the 80-yard trek, Alshon Jeffery got inside his defender on a slant and brought in a one-yard strike with 16 seconds left before the intermission.
The momentum was short-lived thanks to a miraculous ending to the half. Auburn returned the squib kick to its 41-yard line, and an eight-yard completion allowed time for one last play.
Newton got a running start behind his launch, which reached roughly two yards beyond the goal line. Amidst a slew of bodies, South Carolina safety DeVonte Holloman tipped the ball toward the back of the end zone, and Adams jumped over a defender and wrestled the ball away, suddenly giving Auburn a 28-14 lead.
Things continued to deteriorate for South Carolina when Spencer Lanning pushed a 42-yard field goal attempt wide right five minutes into the third quarter.
Auburn scored twice in a less than a minute to essentially seal it, as Emory Blake's 39-yard reception down the left sideline set up Newton's one- yard keeper for a 35-14 game with 7:56 remaining in the third.
Garcia, back pedaling toward his own end zone, threw an ill-advised screen pass on the next series that was intercepted by Bell, who took it back 10 yards for a back-breaking touchdown with 7 1/2 minutes to play in the third.
Newton, who joined Tim Tebow as the only players to have 20 touchdowns passing and rushing in the same season, polished off his historic game with a seven- yard TD toss to Blake early in the final frame.
Lanning scored South Carolina's only points of the second half on a 33-yard field goal, and Mario Fannin's six-yard TD run accounted for the final margin.
The Tiger players fittingly lifted Newton on their shoulders prior to him receiving the player of the game award.
"I want to thank God for blessing me, my family, this team and this coaching staff...Without them, I wouldn't have been able to do what I did," said Newton before reiterating his innocence in the aforementioned controversy.
The fireworks started early, as Auburn went deep on the second play from scrimmage with Newton hitting Adams in stride for a 62-yard gain down to the 14. Two plays later, Newton found Onterio McCalebb near the right sideline, and the running back went in for the 12-yard score just 1:40 into the game.
South Carolina answered with a seven-play, 75-yard drive powered by Garcia, who connected with Patrick DiMarco from 25 yards out off a well executed play- action fake to tie things.
Newton showed off his arm on the first drive, then his legs. He scrambled for a 20-yard gain on 3rd-and-12 from midfield, avoided a sack to move the chains on a 13-yard hookup with Adams on third down, and put the exclamation point on the march by running through Gamecocks linebacker Tony Straughter.
The five-yard TD came with 5:31 left, and the Tigers scored again just over three minutes later after forcing a quick punt. On 3rd-and-6 from their own 46, Adams was left open down the right sideline and hauled in Newton's pass for an easy touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
Each team turned the ball over early in the second stanza. Newton lost the first fumble of his career at his own 34, but a heavily-rushed Garcia was intercepted by Daren Bates on the second play of the ensuing series.
Again the squads mirrored themselves on their next possessions, as each missed a field goal. Lanning was barely wide left on a 51-yard try with just over eight minutes left, and a six-minute Auburn drive went for naught when Wes Byrum hit the right upright on his 36-yard attempt.
"They played much better than we did. They just played better than us. They just flat-out beat us up and down the field offensively and defensively," DiMarco said.
Auburn's 56 points and the 39-point differential were SEC Championship Game records...These two teams met in Auburn back in September, and the Tigers managed a hard-fought 35-27 victory. Auburn now owns an 8-1-1 advantage in the all-time series....Auburn, which improved to 2-2 in SEC title games, also went undefeated in 1957, 1993 and 2004...South Carolina has only won one conference football title (ACC, 1969)...Newton, responsible for 49 touchdowns this season, broke the SEC record for TDs with his first TD pass...The Gamecocks, who had allowed only 20.2 points per game coming in, had zero sacks after logging an SEC-high 39 during the regular season...Garcia connected on 16- of-28 passes...Auburn set a school record by scoring 50-plus points in six games this season.
12/05 08:29:23 ET