for this game

LSU edges Auburn with another late rally

Sep 21, 2008 - 4:48 AM AUBURN, Alabama (Ticker) -- The annual rivalry game between Louisiana State and Auburn went down to the wire for the second straight year. Once again, LSU emerged victorious thanks to a last-minute touchdown.

Jarrett Lee tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell with 1:03 remaining on Saturday, lifting sixth-ranked LSU to a 26-21 victory over No. 9 Auburn in this heated contest between Southeastern Conference powers.

It marked the first time since 1998 that LSU (3-0, 1-0 SEC West) won in Jordan-Hare Stadium. LSU also became the first road team to win this pivotal matchup since September 18, 1999 - when Auburn posted a 41-7 rout in Baton Rouge.

"It was a heck of a football game, as it always is," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "It is always decided by a few points, and there was no difference tonight. They made a few more plays than we did."

Although his team certainly did make a few more plays, LSU head coach Les Miles knows that the defending national champions will not always be able to erase 11-point deficits - something they accomplished in this one.

"To be tested away by a very capable opponent and answering that test is just what this team needed," Miles said. "We did not play great football. We are much more capable than how we played tonight."

LSU protected its home field against Auburn in thrilling fashion last year when Matt Flynn tossed a 22-yard TD to Demetrius Byrd with one second remaining to lift the Tigers to a 30-24 victory.

This year's showdown, which also featured a bevy of momentum swings, appeared to shift in favor of Auburn (3-1, 1-1 West), which grabbed a 21-20 lead with 6:40 remaining on Chris Todd's 15-yard TD pass to Robert Dunn.

But Lee, who replaced injured starter Andrew Hatch, orchestrated a seven-play, 54-yard drive capped by his 18-yarder to LaFell, who beat a defender on a short out route and raced up the right sideline to score untouched.

"I just knew when the opportunity came to me, I had to make the right decision," Lee said. "I did not make the right decisions the first time, but when they called my name again, I came through."

"I kept looking for the ball every time," LaFell added. "As a receiver, you want the ball to come to you and you want to make the big plays."

Lee, who had split time under center with Hatch through the first two games, completed all four of his passes on the decisive drive. The redshirt sophomore finished 11-of-22 for 182 yards, two TDs and one interception.

"We have all seen Jarrett throw and play and just getting him comfortable on the field and with the calls, that was really the issue," Miles said. "You watch him out there today and you could see that he was having a lot of fun."

After LSU missed the ensuing two-point conversion, Auburn moved the ball to the LSU 47-yard line courtesy of a roughing-the-passer penalty. After being sacked for a 15-yard loss, Todd threw two consecutive incompletions before completing a 22-yarder to Rod Smith on 4th-and-25.

"They are a heck of a team - you have to expect that," Todd said. "It was a tough loss, and hopefully we will learn from it and come back next week."

If history is any indication, the victory could prove to be crucial for LSU. In six of the previous eight years, the winner of the all-Tiger matchup has gone on to win the SEC West Division.

The contest also constituted a major test for LSU, which opened its title defense with easy wins over Appalachian State and North Texas.

Charles Scott rushed for 132 yards on just 21 carries and helped LSU compensate for an aerial attack that was stagnant throughout the first half.

"I am thinking it was the hardest 100 yards of my life," said Scott, who became the first opponent to rush for 100 yards against Auburn this season. "They have a great defense."

The game certainly started in inauspicious fashion for LSU, which faced a 14-3 halftime deficit due largely to a mistake by Lee.

With under two minutes remaining before the break, Lee lobbed an ill-advised pass into the flat that was intercepted by defensive end Gabe McKenzie, who made an incredible one-handed catch before rumbling up the sideline and into the end zone.

"I saw the ball coming in over my head and I went up and caught it," McKenzie said. "It was a blessing. I just wanted to get to the sidelines and celebrate with the team."

LSU regained momentum in the third quarter thanks to a pair of lengthy drives that took very little time off the clock.

Lee's first TD pass of the game, a 39-yarder to Chris Mitchell, drew LSU within 14-10 and capped a 73-yard drive that lasted just over 2 1/2 minutes. Two possessions later, LSU needed just four plays and 86 seconds to drive the ball 89 yards and take a 17-14 lead.

The lighting-fast march ended with some trickery, as LSU running back Keiland Williams took a pitch from Lee, rolled to his right and found a wide-open Byrd for a 22-yard TD on the final play of the third quarter.

"It happened to be the right time for that play," Miles said. "We needed a fast score. We didn't really plan for it until this week."

LSU went ahead, 20-14, on Colt David's 32-yard field goal with 8:27 remaining. But Auburn, which finally showed signs of improvement in its new spread offense, responded with a 74-yard drive that lasted just 1:47 and was capped with Todd's scoring strike to Dunn.

"I thought we did some good things tonight, especially in this atmosphere and this type of game," Todd said. "We are still getting better, and I think we will continue to do that."

Todd finished 17-of-32 for 250 yards and two interceptions. Smith had five catches for 73 yards while Dunn chipped in four receptions for 60 yards.