The LSU-Auburn rivalry has given college football fans some incredible memories over the years. From the “Earthquake Game” in 1988 to the Cam Newton run that launched his Heisman campaign, Auburn-LSU has been filled with dramatic moments that live in our memories for the rest of our lives.
The year 1997 gave us another chapter in this series when No. 12 Auburn traveled to Baton Rouge for a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium against 10th-ranked LSU.
With LSU star tailback Kevin Faulk nursing an injured hamstring, LSU head coach Gerry DiNardo turned to halfbacks Cecil Collins and Rondell Mealey. Auburn head coach Terry Bowden entrusted senior quarterback Dameyune Craig to guide the Tigers through the 1997 season. Auburn receivers Tyrone Goodson, Hicks Poor, and Karsten Bailey provided the Tigers with dynamic playmaking and earned Craig’s trust as go-to guys.
Auburn struck first when Craig found fullback Fred Beasley out of the backfield for a 26-yard touchdown to put Auburn up 7-0. After two incompletions to start the first LSU drive, Auburn linebacker Takeo Spikes intercepted LSU quarterback Herb Tyler and returned the ball to the LSU 10. Unfortunately for Auburn, Craig fumbled on the ensuing possession while scrambling to his left and LSU recovered to thwart the scoring chance.
After Collins rambled through the Auburn defense to give LSU good field position, Tyler was intercepted by Auburn defensive back Antwoine Nolan. Craig and Poor capitalized on the pick when they connected for a 25-yard touchdown pass to extend the Auburn lead to 14-0 with 7:28 left in the first quarter.
With LSU needing a response, Mealey dashed 44 yards to the Auburn 6-yard-line. Collins finished the drive from there, scoring on a 3-yard run to chop the Auburn lead to 14-7.
Not to be outdone, Auburn tailback Rusty Williams spearheaded the next drive, finding the end zone from 10 yards out to put Auburn up 21-7.
After exchanging punts, a Collins 48-yard gallop set up a Tyler 1-yard touchdown run to make the score 21-14. On LSU’s last series before the half, Collins again busted loose for a 33-yard gain to the Auburn 38. One play later, Tyler found receiver Nemessis Bates on a 38-yard touchdown strike to knot the game at 21.
In just one half of football, Collins and Mealey combined for 233 rushing yards, gashing the Auburn front for big gains. Auburn countered with 164 yards passing from Craig to go along with some nice runs from Williams.
After a slow second-half start for both teams, LSU punter Chad Kessler’s shank gave Auburn the ball in LSU territory. Auburn kicker Jaret Holmes’ 34-yard field goal gave Auburn a 24-21 lead with six minutes left in the third.
LSU gained its first lead of the game when Collins evaded two tackles and dashed 42 yards to make it 28-24.
A second Holmes kick sailed wide left to give LSU a chance to ice the game behind its powerful run game. Although Collins and Mealey had ripped the Tigers for 300 yards rushing combined, AU stonewalled the duo and forced an LSU punt with 3:12 left.
Craig completed 5-of-9 attempts for 69 yards to move Auburn inside LSU’s 5. Williams’ plunge from 1 yard out gave Auburn a 31-28 lead.
On the last play of the game, Auburn linebacker Quinton Reese blocked LSU placekicker Wade Richey’s 64-yard field goal attempt, securing a heart-stopping win for the Plainsmen.
Craig’s 342 yards passing led the Auburn while Collins’ 232 and Mealey’s 129 yards rushing were impressive even in defeat.
The contest ultimately decided the SEC Western Division as Auburn, by virtue of head-to-head victory, advanced to the SEC Championship Game, where the Tigers lost to the Tennessee Volunteers 30-29.
Auburn capped its 10-win season with a victory over the Clemson Tigers in the Peach Bowl. Meanwhile, LSU shocked No. 1 Florida on Oct. 11, 1997, only to lose to Ole Miss the following Saturday.
Collins’ breakout campaign came to end when he broke his leg against Vanderbilt. The Bayou Bengals’ 27-9 victory over Notre Dame in the Independence Bowl gave LSU its’ ninth win of the 1997 season.
Faulk returned and finished his career as one of the most heralded backs in SEC history. H&A