Seventh-ranked Auburn gained a share of the Southeastern Conference championship and a berth in the Sugar Bowl Friday with its specialty: defense.
With tackle Ron Stallworth recording four sacks, one for a safety, the Tigers held No. 17 Alabama to 12 net yards rushing and defeated the Crimson Tide, 15-10.
“We did not play too pretty, but we came away with the victory,” Auburn Coach Pat Dye said.
The victory lifted the Tigers into a tie with No. 16 Louisiana State for the SEC title. The Sugar Bowl immediately extended and Auburn accepted an invitation to face No. 5 Florida State in the New Orleans event Jan. 2.
“This is a mighty happy dressing room,” Dye said. “I am mighty proud of this football team.”
The Tigers had six sacks, and, on offense, Lawyer Tillman turned in the game’s biggest play, a leaping catch of a 53-yard pass over a defender to set up Auburn’s only touchdown.
“They have an outstanding football team--one of the best I’ve coached against,” Alabama’s Bill Curry said.
“We just didn’t quite execute well enough in the clutch a couple of times and it cost us the game,” Curry added.
LSU will now head for the Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa, Fla., to face Syracuse, a team that had wanted Auburn as its foe after the two teams battled to a tie in the last Sugar Bowl.
Dye praised the work of Stallworth and his entire defense.
“Ron is a very consistent football player,” Dye said. “He put good pressure on (Alabama quarterback David) Smith, along with the rest of our defense. We were around him all day long.”
It was the sixth victory in a row for the Tigers, who closed the regular season at 10-1 overall and 6-1 in the SEC.
Alabama, headed for a Sun Bowl game with Army after closing the regular season at Texas A&M; next Thursday night, fell to 7-3 and 4-3.
It was Auburn’s third victory in a row over the Crimson Tide, its longest streak in the series since it put together five in a row in the 1950s--the last 4 years before and first year of the Bear Bryant era.
Stallworth’s 6-yard sack of Smith in the end zone broke a 3-3 tie with 3:18 left in the opening quarter.
Tillman’s catch set up a 1-yard scoring run by Vincent Harris with 2:55 left in the third, staking the Tigers to a 15-3 lead that virtually put the game out of reach.
Tillman leaped up with defender Lee Ozmint to spear the 53-yard bomb from Reggie Slack at the Alabama 33. On the next play, Stacy Danley raced 18 yards to the 15 and Harris scored one play after Slack fired a 12-yard pass to Freddy Wegand.
Auburn scored its other points on field goals of 25 and 22 yards by Win Lyle.
Alabama got its first points from Philip Doyle’s 20-yard field goal for a 3-3 tie with 7:44 left in the opening period.
The Crimson Tide scored a touchdown with 3:23 to play on Smith’s 12-yard pass to Greg Payne.
The SEC crown was the second in a row for the Tigers and their fourth overall.