Rebels win thriller over Auburn

By By Will Bardwell/staff writer
November 9, 2003
AUBURN, Ala. Eli Manning was not perfect, but he was close enough to keep his team spotless in conference play.
With surgical precision and more than a little bit of luck, Ole Miss' senior quarterback led a storybook drive through the heart of Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, guiding the Rebels to a 24-20 comeback win over the Auburn Tigers.
Trailing by three points late in the fourth quarter, Manning sailed a long, arcing pass into the waiting arms of fullback Lorenzo Townsend on the left sideline. The play put Ole Miss deep in Auburn territory and set up a one-yard touchdown plunge by Brandon Jacobs with less than three minutes to go.
It was almost not enough to secure a win for the SEC West-leading Rebels, though. Auburn got the ball back with 2:39 remaining in the game, and Tigers quarterback Jason Campbell guided his team inside the Ole Miss five-yard line with less than a minute to go.
Auburn seemed poised to rob the Rebels of their unblemished conference record, but fate intervened. Facing third and goal with just 37 seconds remaining, Tigers receiver Ben Obomanu sprang wide open and caught a three-yard floater in the end zone.
And then he dropped it.
But Obomanu, who finished the game with six catches for 150 yards and a touchdown, had not caught it. The incompletion set up fourth down, and flushed from the pocket, Campbell desperately threw into triple coverage.
Eric Oliver and Travis Blanchard batted the ball to the ground, and Ole Miss ran out the clock.
Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said the blame could not fall solely on Obomanu, who took a 51-yard reception to the Ole Miss 10-yard line earlier in the Tigers' final drive.
Manning's numbers were unspectacular two touchdowns and 218 yards on 19-of-30 passing but when the Rebels needed him most, he delivered. Manning converted all three of Ole Miss' third downs on the game-winning drive, passing for two and running for the other.
Most importantly of all, the Rebels' signal-caller did not throw an interception. The closest Auburn came to stealing possession from Ole Miss was a Manning fumble in the third quarter, but offensive lineman Doug Buckles pounced on the ball and the Rebels punted.
Saturday was only the fourth time in Ole Miss' 10 games in which the Rebels were held under 30 points.