AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Cam Newton was unstoppable as always. Still, Auburn needed a couple of favorable calls from the replay booth and one big play on defense to hold off Arkansas and its backup quarterback.
Newton, leaving little doubt that he’s a serious Heisman contender, ran for 188 yards, threw for 140 and accounted for four touchdowns, leading the No. 7 Tigers to a wild 65-43 victory over the No. 12 Razorbacks on Saturday in a game that went back and forth until Auburn pulled away in the fourth quarter.
The teams set a Southeastern Conference record for most points in a non-overtime game. The previous mark was set in South Carolina’s 65-39 victory over Mississippi State in 1995.
Newton led the Tigers (7-0, 4-0 SEC) with three touchdown runs, including a 3-yarder with 8½ minutes remaining that essentially clinched it. He also threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Emory Blake with 11:44 remaining, giving Auburn the lead for good at 44-43.
“We refuse to lose,” Newton said. “The closer the game gets, the closer this team gets.”
Arkansas (4-2, 1-2) might have seen its SEC title hopes dashed and also lost its own Heisman hopeful, quarterback Ryan Mallett, who went out in the first half after taking a blow to the head. But Tyler Wilson took over at quarterback and the Razorbacks didn’t miss a beat — not until the fourth quarter, anyway.
Wilson completed 15 of his first 17 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns, the last of them a 23-yarder to Greg Childs that gave the Razorbacks a 43-37 lead with 14:09 remaining. To that point, Wilson’s only incomplete throws were a dropped pass and a ball he threw away under pressure.
It was all Auburn from there. Well, Auburn and the guys upstairs, who already had made a crucial ruling in the first half that preserved a touchdown for the Tigers.
After Newton’s scoring pass to Blake, Arkansas picked up one first down and appeared to have another when Broderick Green barreled around right end for 4 yards. As he was brought down by Craig Stevens and Mike Blanc, the ball suddenly popped loose.
Zac Etheridge wisely picked it up for Auburn and took off the other way, going 47 yards to the end zone.
Then, it was time for the replay officials to do their thing. The video appeared to show Green putting a knee on the ground a split-second before the ball popped loose and he was rolling over a defender. Apparently, though, that wasn’t definitive enough to overturn the call on the field.
On the very play from scrimmage, Wilson finally cracked. An ill-advised pass downfield was picked off by Josh Bynes. He returned it 33 yards to the Arkansas 7, and there was no way to stop Newton from there. He rushed up the middle for 4 yards, then finished it off with more carry up the middle.
Auburn finally had enough points to hold off the Razorbacks, adding one more touchdown after Wilson’s second pick to win a game that featured a staggering 1,036 yards — and that doesn’t even include 400 yards in kickoff returns.
Of course, both teams had plenty of chances to return kicks. Auburn scored eight touchdowns and got three field goals from Wes Byrum, while Arkansas put up six TDs (plus a two-point conversion).
This was supposed to be one of the year’s top quarterback matchups. Newton sure did his part, running around, over and right through the Razorbacks, not to mention a highly efficient 10-of-14 passing performance.
But it was running the ball where he really shined. Time after time, he took the snap, spotted the smallest of gaps in the line and took off right through it.
On one touchdown, the 6-foot-6, 250-pounder barreled right over linebacker Jerico Nelson like he was nothing more than a kicker trying to make the stop. On another, Newton took a shotgun snap from the 5 to get a running start so he could soar over everyone for the score.
“I don’t have an opportunity to watch everybody in America,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “But No. 2 is one spectacular football player. I’m not one to go out on a limb, but everyone in the world can see it.”
Mallett didn’t even make it to halftime. After throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Van Stumon midway through the first quarter — long forgotten by the end of this day — the junior quarterback took a shot to the head. A guy who was averaging nearly 350 yards per game through the air was done.
Wilson, a sophomore, was quite the replacement. He went to Childs for a pair of TDs, also connecting on a 34-yarder, and hooked up with Joe Adams on a 24-yard score and Ronnie Wingo on a 37-yarder.
The replay calls all went Auburn’s way, though, showing that disputes can occur even when the play is reviewed. Auburn’s first big break came when Mario Fannin took a handoff at the 4 and tumbled into the end zone. Only one problem: The ball was sitting back at the 1, and the Razorbacks scooped it up.
The officials huddled and, even though there was no apparent touchdown signal, ruled that Fannin had crossed the line before he lost the ball. It wasn’t possible from the various angles used on the replay to tell if Tramine Thomas knocked the ball loose before Fannin scored.
So the Tigers got to celebrate. It wouldn’t be the last time.
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