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September 10, 2011Auburn needed one last stop. It needed someone on defense to make a play.
With 10 seconds remaining in the game Saturday against Mississippi State, the Tigers had a 41-34 lead, but the Bulldogs had the ball on Auburn's 1-yard line with one opportunity to tie the game.
Mississippi State had already rushed for more than 300 yards and ran 96 offensive plays against the Tigers. One more yard on one more play is all the Bulldogs needed.
But Auburn back-up safety Ryan Smith wouldn't allow it.
"I saw (MSU quarterback Chris) Relf was running the option to the other side of the field," said Smith, who was lined up at the left safety spot. "I just tried to scrape across, pursue the ball and make a play."
Smith did. The sophomore upended the Mississippi State quarterback short of the goal line as time expired to give the Tigers the 41-34 win.
"I knew I was going to come with all I had," Smith said. "I didn't know if I had stopped him or not until I heard the crowd. It was an awesome sound to hear."
With the win, Auburn moved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the SEC. Mississippi State fell to 1-1 and 0-1 in the SEC. It is also the Tigers' 17th consecutive win, the longest win streak in the country.
"I couldn't be more proud of a guy like Ryan," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "He was able to stand up and make a play at the end and for me as the head coach, it makes me like a proud father.
"It is just awesome to see a young guy come through at the end of the game ultimately for the win."
Smith wasn't the only youngster to make plays for the Tigers.
Sophomore running back Michael Dyer rushed for 150 yards on 18 carries (8.3 avg.) and scored two touchdowns including one from 35 yards out to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Auburn would extend its first-quarter lead to 14-0 on Mississippi State's ensuing possession when sophomore safety Demetruce McNeal intercepted a Relf pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown.
The Tigers lead however, wouldn't last long. The Bulldogs scored 21 consecutive points before Auburn found the end zone again. Junior quarterback Barrett Trotter connected with junior wideout Emory Blake for a 46-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter to tie the game at 21-21.
Auburn retook the lead 28-21 with less than five minutes left in the half as Dyer scored his second touchdown of the game, this one from two yards out. Following a Mississippi State field goal, Tiger sophomore kicker Cody Parkey pushed the Auburn lead back to 10 after making a 43-yard attempt.
Both teams kicked field goals in the third quarter before Auburn built its biggest lead of the game early in the fourth when Trotter hit tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen for a 15-yard touchdown. The score gave the Tigers a 41-27 lead with just over 14 minutes left in the game.
Mississippi State cut the lead to 41-34 with 4:51 remaining with a 3-yard touchdown run from Vick Ballard. State regained possession of the ball with 2:52 left, drove 76 yards, but it wasn't enough. The Bulldogs needed 77.
"I think we got better," said Chizik. "We prefer to win football games a lot differently than we are, but I am going to tell you, there is something to be said for knowing that you can fight down to the end when it doesn't look good and still be able to win a game. Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how you do it. It just matters that you do it."
Trotter finished the day completing 16 of 23 attempts for 146 yards and two touchdowns. The junior did throw an interception that was returned for a score. Running back Onterio McCalebb rushed 11 times for 68 yards and caught four passes for 24 yards, and Blake had a team-high seven catches for 108 yards and the touchdown.
Linebacker Daren Bates led the Tigers defense with 12 tackles, four solos and ? tackle for loss. Senior safety Neiko Thorpe had 11 stops, four solos and ? tackle for loss.