Auburn 41, West Virginia 30
AUBURN, Ala. (AP)In a wild, rain-delayed game in which Auburn and West Virginia combined for more than 900 yards, a defensive player made the biggest play.
Craig Stevens intercepted a screen pass by West Virginia and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown with 3:41 left in the fourth quarter, and Auburn defeated the Mountaineers 41-30 Saturday night.
"We had a feeling they were going to run the screen sometime during that series, so I ended up going on a blitz that play," Stevens said. "He lobbed it just enough for me to tip it and I got it in my hands. Once I got in my hands I had to get in the end zone."
Chris Todd threw four touchdown passes as Auburn (3-0) came back from an early 14-0 deficit to take the lead for good with 12:07 to play on Todd's 17-yard pass to Darvin Adams. It was Todd's third touchdown pass to Adams, and it was set up by defensive tackle Jake Ricks' interception at the West Virginia 19.
Auburn's running game had dominated in the first two games, but Todd said it was time for the passing game to have a big night.
"We had some really good games running the ball of our last two games and West Virginia did a lot to take care of that. Because of their rushing pressure, we were able to put the ball in the air and put up some points," Todd said.
Todd completed an 82-yard scoring pass to Mario Fannin to tie the game 27-27 midway through the third quarter. West Virginia took a 30-27 lead late in the third quarter on a 28-yard field goal by Tyler Bitancurt.
Todd's four TD passes were the most by an Auburn quarterback since Daniel Cobb had four against Louisiana Tech in 2001.
The two teams combined for 909 yards of offense. Noel Devine rushed 15 times for 128 yards and three touchdowns for the Mountaineers (2-1).
The Mountaineers rushed for 207 yards and passed for 302, but the Auburn defense stiffened after taking the lead in the fourth quarter, intercepting West Virginia quarterbacks four times in the final period.
Despite the loss, Mountaineers head coach Bill Stewart said he was proud of his team for playing "a tough, physical football game."
"I thought it was a heck of a game. I thought both sides played physical. Both sides played hard and I'm glad we got that football game under our belt. It's over and we should have come out on top but we didn't," Stewart said. He said turnovers were a major reason for his team's loss.
The start of the game was delayed for more than an hour by a powerful thunderstorm that hit the Auburn area shortly before the scheduled game time. Despite warnings that people should leave their seats because of the threat of lightning, about 15,000 boisterous fans in the Auburn student section, refused to move. They cheered and sang "Who'll Stop The Rain," some taking their shirts off, despite torrential rain that was falling so hard it was impossible to see across the field.
Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said the will showed by those fans gave his players an emotional boost.
"I would like to say that I wish I had 87,000 game balls because our fans were a huge reason we won that game and I want the to know it," Chizik said.
"I am so proud of our guys because they had to fight and claw and scratch back to win it," he said.
Stewart said he's glad the start of the game was delayed.
"That lightning, we don't mess with that and I am so glad that is the way college football is. It was the right thing to do and it did not hurt us," Stewart said.
West Virginia linebacker J.T. Thomas said he felt like the Mountaineers were the better team, despite the loss.
"We kind of beat ourselves and we were the better team," Thomas said. "I'm not saying Auburn is not a great team, but we kind of shot ourselves in the foot."
West Virginia quickly silenced the Auburn fans after the rain delay as the Mountaineers jumped off to a 14-0 lead on their first two possessions. On their third play from scrimmage, Jarrett Brown connected with Bradley Starks for 58 yards to set up Devine's 1-yard run.
On the Mountaineers next possession, Devine broke through the middle of the Auburn line and ran 71 yards untouched to the end zone. Brown threw a 6-yard scoring pass to Jock Sanders late in the first quarter.
Auburn fought back after the quick West Virginia start and only trailed 21-20 at halftime. Todd threw 4-yard and 16-yard touchdown passes to Adams in the first half and Wes Bynum kicked 46-yard and 42-yard field goals for Auburn.
West Virginia extended the lead on its first possession of the second half, driving 76 yards on eight plays, capped by Devine's third score of the night, a 12-yard run.