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Auburn avoids near-epic upset to 40-point underdog Jacksonville State

Ruben Gonzales, Jonathan Jones

Auburn defensive back Jonathan Jones (3) breaks up a pass intended for Jacksonville State wide receiver Ruben Gonzalez in the second half Saturday.

(Butch Dill / Associated Press)

Jacksonville State, for roughly 57 minutes, seemingly did everything it could to win.

And then, everything it could to lose.

The 40-point underdog Gamecocks stood at the brink of an epic upset Saturday at No. 6 Auburn when they curled up under a conservative blanket.

Auburn escaped an all-time embarrassment by pulling out a 27-20 overtime victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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Jacksonville State, a sub-division FCS school from the Ohio Valley Conference, simply frittered away a historic opportunity.

A horrible, 17-yard punt set up Auburn’s game-tying touchdown with 39 seconds left in regulation.

The ensuing kickoff, though, skidded out of bounds and gave Jacksonville State the ball at its 35 with no time lost on the clock.

After the wayward boot, Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn mouthed “are you kidding me?” to his kicker as he approached the sideline.

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Instead of trying to win in regulation, though, Jacksonville State Coach John Grass elected to play for overtime.

Somewhere, Herman Edwards must have been screaming: You play to win the game!”

Auburn scored first in overtime and then held the Gamecocks on downs to pull out the win.

Jacksonville State quarterback Eli Jenkins, who otherwise played brilliantly, took a 16-yard sack on third and goal and then connected, on fourth down, to receiver Josh Barge.

Only problem: Barge was out of bounds, so it was game over.

Jacksonville State botched a monumental chance to join Appalachian State over Michigan in 2007 as the greatest FCS upset in recent history.

FCS opponents, entering the game, had lost 53 straight games to top-10 FBS teams.

Make it 54.

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The game was still a huge blow to the Southeastern Conference in a week when non-conference scheduling became a national issue on talk radio social media.

Many fans in the SEC, fearing Ohio State will coast to the playoffs after Monday’s impressive win at Virginia, began sniping about the Buckeyes’ “weak” schedule.

People elsewhere countered with the SEC’s longstanding practice of playing sub-division schools.

Jacksonville State, which defeated Chattanooga by three points in last week’s opener, sought its second upset against the SEC. The Gamecocks defeated Mississippi in OT, 49-48, in the 2010 opener.

Looking ahead: Auburn opens SEC play next week at Louisiana State.

Jacksonville State hosts Tennessee State.  


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