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Auburn escapes again, clips No. 16 Mississippi State in SEC opener

Defending champion Auburn's nation-best winning streak is still alive. By an inch or two.

Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf was driven up into the air, landed with the football just inches from paydirt with seconds remaining, and the clock ticked down to all zeroes, setting off a wild celebration that came with the Tigers' 17th straight victory.

Barrett Trotter threw two touchdown passes, Michael Dyer ran for 150 yards and two more scores, and Auburn took a thrilling, back-and-forth SEC opener from No. 16 Mississippi State, 41-34.

Emory Blake caught seven passes for 108 yards and a touchdown for the Tigers (2-0, 1-0 SEC), who played with more fire and efficiency than they did in a 42-38 victory last Saturday against Utah State. The Tigers led by two touchdowns twice in this contest, but had to hold on in the final seconds.

"The guys stepped up to the plate and made the play," said Auburn head coach Gene Chizik.

Relf threw for 195 yards with a touchdown and ran for 105 more yards, while Vick Ballard totaled 135 rushing yards and a score for the Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1), who lost despite racking up 530 total yards, including 332 on the ground.

The back-breaking drive came early in the fourth, as Auburn, pinned up against its goal line, moved 92 yards in 10 plays to take a two-touchdown lead. The big play came on a 4th-and-1 from the Bulldogs' 31-yard line, as Dyer got just inches more than he needed to keep the march alive. A few plays later, an interception was nullified by an offsides penalty, and the Tigers took advantage with a 10-yard touchdown toss from Trotter to Philip Lutzenkirchen.

Mississippi State responded late in the quarter with a 12-play, 83-yard drive capped by Ballard's three-yard plunge, keeping its hopes alive at 41-34. It followed with a 66-yard drive that put the football on the doorstep of a tie game. Just one pass, a 16-yard strike to Ballard, and plenty of option runs put the ball inside the Auburn 10-yard line with under 30 seconds to go.

After a seven-yard run to the one, Ballard was pushed back on the next play, forcing the Bulldogs to spend their final timeout. Relf then followed two blockers to his left and was clipped up into the air, falling just inches from the goal line as time expired.

"Coming down to the last play and fighting, scratching and clawing for every inch you have a heavyweight fight, 15 rounds, last man standing," said Chizik, "that's what you have to do to be able to win these games."

Auburn set up its first drive just 36 yards from the end zone. It took just four plays to reach it, aided by an offsides penalty that wiped out a third- down incompletion. Dyer sprinted around the right end and found empty real estate, sprinting 35 yards for the touchdown.

Again, Mississippi State looked unsettled on the ensuing possession, making two mistakes after its first positive play. Following an six-yard run, Ballard had an 11-yard run negated by an illegal shift penalty. Relf's subsequent pass to the right flat sailed over a stretching receiver and found the waiting arms of Auburn's Demetruce McNeal, who navigated 43 yards down the sideline for a 14-0 advantage.

Mississippi State finally found its footing with a breakaway burst that quieted the crowd. LaDarius Perkins found plenty of open space on the left side of the line, shifted to the sideline and outraced all defenders before lunging into the end zone to complete a 40-yard jaunt.

Once the Bulldogs found some success, they continued to run downhill and mix in some passes. Relf ran three times for 23 yards early in the march and completed the 67-yard drive with successive completions, the latter a 15-yard rollout strike for a score to Brandon Heavens.

The Bulldogs completed 21 consecutive points with an interception return, as Johnthan Banks undercut a pass into the left flat and waltzed 27 yards for the score and a 21-14 game.

The back-and-forth burst of big plays continued. Auburn wasted little time, taking less than two minutes to square the contest.

A 46-yard strike from Trotter to Blake started as a simple crossing pattern, but Blake broke away and darted into the end zone. After another Bulldogs punt, the quick-strike Tigers again didn't need two minutes to reach the end zone. Another big pass to Blake, this one a 23-yard connection, started the march and Dyer finished it off with his second touchdown of the game, a two- yard plunge.

The teams exchanged field goals to end the half. Mississippi State's Derek DePasquale connected from 27 yards out with 40 ticks to go, and Auburn frantically moved into range for Cody Parkey's 43-yard attempt.

Again the kickers put up the points in the early stages of the third stanza. Parkey nailed a 37-yard attempt and DePasquale booted through a 32-yard kick to keep the deficit at seven points, 34-27.

Game Notes

Former Auburn basketball star Charles Barkley was in attendance...Auburn owns a 60-23-2 edge in the all-time series...Mississippi State has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in all but one contest under head coach Dan Mullen.