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NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Auburn made an improbable bid to share the national title by hanging on in the



Published: Tue, January 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Auburn made an improbable bid to share the national title by hanging on in the Sugar Bowl. Now, all the No. 3 Tigers can do is wait to see if it somehow works out.

Jason Campbell threw a touchdown pass, John Vaughn kicked three short field goals and Auburn completed a perfect season with a 16-13 victory over ninth-ranked Virginia Tech on Monday night.

But was it enough to claim a share of the national title?

The Tigers (13-0) had a couple of second-half turnovers that prevented them from blowing the game open. And they gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass with two minutes remaining, hurting their chances of swaying the voters to split No. 1 again.

Virginia Tech (10-3) could have made things easier on the Bowl Championship Series by upsetting Auburn, but the Hokies made 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 remaining in the game, ruining the shutout, one could almost sense that No. 1 Southern Cal, No. 2 Oklahoma and -- especially -- the BCS were breathing a little easier.

Randall dealt another blow to the Tigers when he threw the long touchdown pass to Morgan, perhaps costing a few more votes.

Good sports

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.

The Auburn band even launched into a Bon Jovi song that summed things up for the Southeastern Conference champions: "Living on a Prayer."

Campbell was named MVP after completing 11-of-16 for 189 yards with one interception. Randall threw for 299 yards but was picked off twice.

Auburn's hopes are based on this convoluted scenario: The Tigers needed to defeated Virginia Tech convincingly, Oklahoma knock off USC in an ugly Orange Bowl and enough voters in The Associated Press media poll picked Auburn as the No. 1 team, creating another split champion.

The winner of the Orange Bowl is assured of being voted No. 1 in the coaches' poll. But the AP rankings aren't tied to the BCS.

Auburn tried to fill in the first piece of its improbable championship puzzle, but it was hardly a masterpiece.

Start with the Hokies. Jesse Allen dropped a sure touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal at the 1 midway through the second quarter. Then, Brandon Pace yanked a 23-yard field goal just left of the upright early in the fourth.

Missed opportunities

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 a lot 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 short field goals by Vaughn, who connected from 23, 19 and 24 yards for a 9-0 lead at halftime.

After taking the second-half kickoff, Auburn finally drove all the way to the end zone. The biggest play was a 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-2 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 first TD.

It would be their only one, hardly the sort of definitive statement the Tigers hoped to make with the nation -- and all those crucial voters -- watching.

Not that it was surprising to have these two teams lock up in a defensive struggle. Auburn gave up fewer points per game than any team in the country, Virginia Tech was just two spots behind in the national rankings.

Trotting onto the Superdome turf beneath a sign that said, "Go Auburn, Biased Championship Series," the Tigers got off to a roaring start.

Field goals galore

Campbell threw a 35-yard pass to Cooper Wallace on Auburn's first offensive play, then Ronnie Brown broke off a 31-yard run on the next snap. But the Tigers bogged down at the 5, settling for Vaughn's first field goal.

That would set the tone. Auburn drove inside the 10 on two more possessions, but the Hokies bucked up to keep the Tigers out of the end zone. Vaughn connected two more times from chip-shot range, tying the Sugar Bowl record for field goals in a half.

Trailing 6-0, Virginia Tech squandered its lone chance to seize the lead. Randall connected with Josh Hyman on a 31-yard completion, giving the Hokies first-and-goal at the Auburn 2.

Mike Imoh was stopped for no gain and Randall threw an incompletion. Randall got just inside the 1 on a third-down run, and the Hokies decided to go for the TD rather than settle for a field goal.

Virginia Tech called the right play -- Randall faked a handoff to Imoh and flipped a pass to Allen, normally a blocker who had slipped free out of the backfield.

But the ball skidded right through his hands, giving possession back to Auburn.

The Tigers then drove 92 yards to set up Vaughn's third field goal, drawing a disgusted reaction from Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. He ripped off his cap in anger after watching Auburn drive nearly the length of the field.




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