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Auburn place-kicker Wes Byrum (18) celebrates with teammates Kodi Burns (18) and Josh Hebert (39) after his 43-yard field goal defeated Florida 20-17 in Gainesville on Saturday night.
AP photo by Chris O’Meara
Auburn place-kicker Wes Byrum (18) celebrates with teammates Kodi Burns (18) and Josh Hebert (39) after his 43-yard field goal defeated Florida 20-17 in Gainesville on Saturday night.

Swamp celebration
Byrum’s last-second field goal winning margin for AU

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Wes Byrum’s game-winning 43-yard field was still in the air when he turned to the Florida sideline and did his best rendition of the Gator chomp.

He knew as soon as it left his foot that it was good.

“I looked up and saw it was right in the middle and knew it was going to go,” he said.

The true freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., slapped his hands together feverishly and then raced toward the Auburn fans gathered at the corner of the stadium, ripping off his helmet as teammates piled on top of him.

Auburn gave No. 4 Florida its first loss of the season, stunning the favored Gators 20-17 in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday night.

“It’s awesome,” Byrum said. “It’s everything I’ve dreamed about.”

Auburn is now 9-1 in its last 10 games against top-10 teams, including last season’s upset over the No. 2-ranked Gators in Auburn.

The Tigers came into the game as an 18-point underdog.

“I could tell our players all week long resented we were a three-touchdown underdog,” Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. “This is far to good a team to be looked like that.”

Florida (4-1, 2-1 SEC) stormed back from two 14-point deficits: Auburn led 14-0 at the half and then led 17-3 midway through the third quarter. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s 2-yard touchdown run tied the score at 17 with 7:35 left in the game.

But the Tigers (3-2, 1-1) responded minutes later with a 10-play, 35-yard drive, setting up Byrum’s boot.

Auburn took over at its own 38-yard line with four minutes left in the game. The Tigers converted a crucial third-and-three at the Florida 43 with 1:50 on the clock when running back Ben Tate picked up 5 yards. Tate, who fumbled earlier in the game leading to a Gator score, picked up another third down at the Florida 29 with 21 second left.

Two plays later, Byrum came into the game and kicked what Auburn thought was the game-winner.

The Auburn sidelines erupted when the kick went through, pouring onto the field and celebrating. But wait. Florida coach Urban Meyer had called a timeout seconds before the snap.

Officials shooed the Auburn personnel back to the sideline, but they would re-enact the affair minutes later.

With 90,685 fans screaming and a stiff wind blowing into his face, Byrum hit the real game-winner following Florida’s timeout.

“I really just stopped thinking because I just did it once,” Byrum said. “I stood back there, took my steps and just did it again.”

Said Tuberville of his 18-year-old kicker: “That kid’s crazy. He’s got absolutely ice water running in his veins. I couldn’t even breath much less kick a ball in that situation, and he had to kick two of them.”

Tuberville said he was watching Florida fans while the kick flew through the air.

“I’m waiting for their fans to start jumping up and down, and it just kind of hit me, ‘Hey, we won the ballgame on a field goal,’ ” he said.

The hero of the night was Byrum, but the workhorse was quarterback Brandon Cox. He ended a stellar night by completing all three pass attempts on that final drive. Auburn’s senior who lost his starting job after the loss to Mississippi State and then won it back last week, finished the night hitting 17 of his 26 attempts for 227 yards.

After throwing six interceptions during the first three games of the season, Cox has thrown none in the last two.

The Tigers offense compiled 326 yards of offense, but the defense proved to be the key, slowing down the Gators’ sixth-ranked offense. And that’s without defensive end Quentin Groves for the final 20 minutes. Groves, who is still a sack shy of Auburn’s career sack record, suffered several dislocated toes in the third quarter.

Cox went 5-for-5 on the Tigers’ opening drive, moving Auburn 80 yards down the field. But it was true freshman quarterback Kodi Burns who got the glory.

Burns, who played little, entered the game on a first-and-goal from the Auburn 6. He scored on a simple quarterback draw to put Auburn up 7-0.

Tigers defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks blocked Florida’s 34-yard field goal attempt midway through the second quarter. It was his second block of the season.

Auburn went up 14-0 on a 3-yard touchdown dash by Tate with 6:21 left in the second quarter. Tate, who led the team with 70 yards on 20 carries, picked up a fourth-and-one attempt from the Florida 4-yard line a play before his scoring run.

Florida’s kicker Joey Ijjas gave the Gators their first points of the game, hitting a 24-yard field goal on the first possession of the second half.

Following a Pat Lee interception, Auburn promptly marched down the field. True freshman running back Mario Fannin amassed 44 rushing yards on the 52-yard drive that was capped by a Byrum 30-yard field goal, putting the Tigers ahead 17-3 with 6:39 left in the third quarter.

Tebow hit receiver Cornelius Ingram from 6 yards out for Florida’s first touchdown of the game, making the score 17-10 with 14:56 remaining. Tebow was responsible for all 38 yards on the scoring drive, which came after Tate’s fumble.

Florida followed that with its longest scoring drive of the night, marching 89 yards for a game-tying touchdown.

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