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Mississippi receiver Dexter McCluster, right, misses the ball under tight defense by Decatur High grad Jerraud Powers, a cornerback for Auburn. The Tigers won 17-3 at Auburn on Saturday night.
AP photo by Dave Martin
Mississippi receiver Dexter McCluster, right, misses the ball under tight defense by Decatur High grad Jerraud Powers, a cornerback for Auburn. The Tigers won 17-3 at Auburn on Saturday night.

Defense
wins it, again

Late interception against stubborn Ole Miss saves victory for Tigers

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

AUBURN — As Pat Lee raced off the field following his game-clinching interception, Jerraud Powers met him on the sideline.

“The ball just came right to you,” Powers said to Lee. “You didn’t have to do nothing!”

Indeed, he didn’t.

Auburn’s starting left cornerback, Lee ran under quarterback Brent Schaeffer’s pass as if he were fielding a punt, cradling it into his chest and preserving the Tigers’ 17-3 win over Ole Miss on Saturday night in a game much closer than expected.

An 181/2-favorite, Auburn (6-3, 4-2 SEC) again relied on a stifling defense to become bowl eligible for the eighth year in a row, but Ole Miss finally mounted a drive late in the game.

Trailing 10-3 midway through the fourth quarter, the Rebels (2-7, 0-6) marched 79 yards on 13 plays, using quick, short passes from Schaeffer. But on a second-and-eight from the Auburn 20, Schaeffer’s pass soared awry, directly into the hands of the waiting Lee.

Auburn’s Rodgeriqus Smith (80) scores late in the fourth quarter as Mississippi defender Jamarca Sanford (13) can’t catch him at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn on Saturday. Auburn won 17-3.
AP photos by Dave Martin
Auburn’s Rodgeriqus Smith (80) scores late in the fourth quarter as Mississippi defender Jamarca Sanford (13) can’t catch him at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn on Saturday. Auburn won 17-3.
As the intended Ole Miss receiver turned into the middle of the field, the ball sailed to the corner of the end zone.

“As soon as I turned around, I was like, that’s the ball. It’s for me,” Lee said, laughing.

The opposite cornerback to Lee, Powers has one interception this season. He insisted that three of Lee’s four interceptions this year have come far too easy.

“Balls are getting thrown right to him,” Powers said, smiling.

Auburn’s offense took advantage of the turnover, sealing the win with a 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Cox to Rod Smith. The senior receiver caught the ball, then broke a tackle for the score.

It was one of few big plays from Auburn’s conservative, run-heavy offense that scored just 17 points against the worst defense in the SEC.

Will Muschamp’s suffocating defense again saved the day.

“They really responded after a tough week last week,” Muschamp said, referring to Auburn’s 30-24 last-minute loss at LSU. “Giving up three points, no touchdowns in an SEC game, is an outstanding job by the kids.”

Ole Miss had just 30 yards before a 56-yard drive late in the second quarter ended in a 51-yard field goal, cutting Auburn’s lead to 7-3 at halftime.

Running for his life for much of the night, Ole Miss starting quarterback Seth Adams didn’t complete a pass until nine minutes remained in the second quarter. The Rebels’ first four drives ended in punts, as Auburn’s offense jumped out to a 7-0 lead with a 1-yard touchdown run by tailback Brad Lester. Lester finished as the game’s leading rusher with 96 yards.

Auburn’s Pat Lee (20) intercepts a pass  in the end zone late in the Tigers’ 17-3 win over Ole Miss in Auburn on Saturday. The play came with the Rebels down 10-3 and driving.
Auburn’s Pat Lee (20) intercepts a pass in the end zone late in the Tigers’ 17-3 win over Ole Miss in Auburn on Saturday. The play came with the Rebels down 10-3 and driving.
Ole Miss running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was held in check by Auburn’s defense. Green-Ellis, who came into the game averaging 98 yards a game, finished with 62.

“The coaches just drilled it in our head that the only way to get a bad loss off your mind is to go out and win the next game,” said Auburn defensive end Antonio Coleman, who replaced injured Quentin Groves in the starting lineup.

After backup place-kicker Zach Kutch hooked a 42-yard field early in the third quarter, an injured Wes Byrum attempted the next one. Suffering from a thigh bruise, Byrum made a 36-yard field to put Auburn up 10-3 with 7:59 left in the third quarter.

From there, Ole Miss’ next two series ended in punts before that potential game-tying drive finished with Lee’s interception.

As soon as the senior defensive back caught the ball 5 yards deep into the end zone, he took off running sideways down the end zone, waiting for a crease to open so that he could have a return.

But in the end, he wisely decided to take a knee.

“I wanted to run bad,” he said. “But everyone was down, so I was like, I’ve got to take a knee.

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