No. 14 Arkansas has this come-from-behind thing down pat.
The Razorbacks (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) needed second-half surges to win three of their four SEC games this season and it was no different against Auburn.
Eric Branch scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 14-yard third quarter run Saturday as Arkansas overcame five turnovers to hold off the Tigers 24-21.
It was the Razorbacks' first-ever victory at Auburn and only their second in eight tries overall.
"I love the character of our football team, the attitude and the never give up in them," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "This is the first Arkansas team to come down here and beat Auburn, in this type of environment. We knew it would require our best effort."
Arkansas, with its best record since 1988, solidified its hold on first place in the SEC West.
It also proved how far Auburn (2-6, 1-5) has fallen. The Tigers needed a win to help move past last week's sudden resignation of coach Terry Bowden. Instead, the defending SEC West champions were eliminated from a bowl game.
"It hurts to be where we are, to not go to a bowl game," Auburn defensive end Leonardo Carson said. "But we're bringing a lot of emotions out on that field and playing as hard as we can. We just have to finish the season and become more of a family."
Arkansas turnovers almost gave Auburn the chance at an upset.
| Arkansas' Michael Williams tries to escape the grasp of Auburns Larry Casher during the second quarter. (AP) |
Leading 24-21 with 2:10 to play, the Razorbacks, who had only eight turnovers this season, lost their third fumble of the game.
Rob Pate recovered on the Auburn 11 to give the Tigers (2-6, 1-5) another chance.
Auburn, which had played a mistake-free second half after three first-half turnovers, was unable to capitalize. Gabe Gross' pass was deflected and Melvin Bradley intercepted at the Tigers 17.
Arkansas then downed the ball four times, allowing Auburn to take over with only nine seconds to play. Gross was sacked to end the game.
"We've had to come back a few times this season, but when we get behind, we don't give up," Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner said. "We knew we were good enough to win."
Arkansas, which has been a second-half team all season by outscoring opponents 137-33, got all its production in the first half.
Gross threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, which Arkansas converted into Todd Latourette's 27-yard field goal and a 4-yard TD pass from Stoerner to Nathan Cole to take a 17-7 halftime lead.
"I thought we would play well, but I didn't think we would surrender the ball as much as we did," Auburn interim coach Bill Oliver said. "It was costly. Christmas came early for Arkansas in the gifts."
Auburn turned the tables on Arkansas after the half.
Stoerner, who had thrown only three interceptions on the year, had two picked off by Auburn's Brad Ware. The second came on Arkansas' second play of the second half.
"If we don't come out and throw that interception, we can move the ball a little bit and seal this thing," Nutt said.
Instead, Auburn made it a tight game. The Tigers needed only three plays and 1:41 for Gross to throw a 54-yard TD pass to Karsten Bailey to pull Auburn to 17-14.
The Tigers then held Arkansas for three plays and forced a punt, and Auburn was back in the end zone three plays later on a 10-yard run by Demontray Carter to lead 21-17 with 9:29 left in the third quarter.
"We gave the ball away, but give their defense credit," Nutt said. "They are extremely talented and very, very good."
Arkansas regained the lead on Branch's 14-yard run with 3:28 to play in the third quarter and the final 15 minutes turned into a battle of field position.
"One thing we talked about was that they had annihilated everybody in the second half all season," Oliver said. "Well, we won the second half. But the bad thing is that the ballgame is 60 minutes long."
Stoerner finished 18-of-28 for 232 yards. Gross was 13-for-20 for 225 yards.
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