For most of 60 minutes on Saturday, No. 5 LSU did almost everything it had to do to protect its lead and give itself a chance to win at No. 14 Auburn.
Almost everything? Well, there was that missed extra point in the first quarter that would come back to haunt LSU in the end. Then, when the game came down to three critical plays in the final 3 minutes, 7 seconds, all three plays went against LSU and opened the door for Auburn to win 10-9.
"I gotta give them the win," LSU defensive end Marcus Spears said. "They lined up against us and played hard.
"I don't think that the mistakes we made were enough to put us in a bad situation. They made the plays they needed to make, and my hat's off to them."
Both teams had plenty of chances to change the outcome, especially in the final stretch. LSU put Auburn in fourth-and-12 at the LSU 28-yard line when Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell hit receiver Courtney Taylor for a 14-yard gain with 3:07 left on the clock. Auburn then faced third-and-12 at the LSU 16 with 1:14 remaining in the game when Campbell and Taylor beat cornerback Ronnie Prude for a touchdown that tied the game at 9-9.
When Auburn proceeded to bounce the extra-point snap and kicker Jon Vaughn missed the point-after, LSU appeared to be on its way to its second overtime game of the early season. The Tigers beat Oregon State 22-21 in overtime three weeks ago when Oregon State missed all three PATs.
LSU's relief didn't last long, though. Citing a new rule put in place for the 2004 season, officials flagged Prude, who was subbing for injured cornerback/kick blocker Corey Webster, for jumping and falling on Auburn deep snapper Pete Compton, triggering a controversial penalty for roughing the snapper.
Given a second chance, Compton bounced another snap for the extra-point, but this time Vaughn sent an ugly kick between the uprights for the winning point.
"That's a really tough game for our players," LSU coach Nick Saban said. "We just had a lot of opportunities we squandered, whether it means missing an extra point earlier in the game or situation where we needed to get a stop late in the game. We missed several opportunities to score."
It was especially painful to lose the game in part due to a new rule that still somewhat open to interpretation.
"It's a tough way to lose a game," Saban said. "And it's a tough way to end a game. It's a new rule this year. When you jump across the line of scrimmage and you land on an opposing player, it's a new rule that it's a personal foul. It's a tough call to make, to have it a game-deciding kind of call.
"We've struggled to get a clear definition of even what the rule is and I'm on the rules committee. I'm sure that we probably didn't do it correctly and deserved to have the call. I'm not criticizing the officials, but it's a cheap penalty to end up losing the game on."
And a tough way to fall behind in the SEC West, at 2-1 overall, 0-1 in the SEC. LSU will still have plenty of chances to win the West, but it won't get another shot at Auburn.
"We played two non-conference games, but we're in the SEC now," LSU sophomore tailback Alley Broussard told the Baton Rouge Advocate. "We have to learn from our mistakes."
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