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Auburn unable to pull off late comeback in road loss to South Carolina
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AU FOOTBALL

Auburn unable to pull off late comeback in road loss to South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Auburn quarterback TJ Finley’s hopes of leading the Tigers to another come-from-behind victory came up short Saturday.

The Tigers found their trip to South Carolina a rather unpleasant one for the second straight year, as Auburn managed only three points after the first quarter and struggled to slow down the South Carolina passing game in a 21-17 loss.

The defeat leaves Auburn with three straight losses this season, their longest losing streak since dropping five in a row in 2012. South Carolina, meanwhile, achieves bowl eligibility with the win.

“It comes down to putting our guys in the best position to be successful, and we didn’t do that enough tonight for us to win the game,” Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin said.

Auburn (6-5, 3-4 SEC) found itself down four deep in its own territory with 5:29 to go in the game. While the drive had a promising beginning, the Tigers failed to see it through.

Finley began the drive in a big way by hitting Shedrick Jackson for a 28-yard gain on the possession’s first play, but from there it all sputtered out. Auburn punted the ball back to South Carolina three plays later, and the Gamecocks promptly ran off one minute and 20 seconds and forced the Tigers to burn all three timeouts before one last chance to get the ball back presented itself.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, that last chance didn’t come to fruition.

With just over two minutes left in the game, Auburn cornerback Jaylin Simpson was hit by the ricocheting punt, which allowed a South Carolina player to fall on the football. While the ball was originally given to the Tigers, the officials awarded the ball to South Carolina upon review, effectively ending the game.

The Tigers found themselves searching for points after a tense start to the second half.

Auburn regained the lead nearly midway through the quarter on Ben Patton’s 37-yard field goal, but the Gamecocks’ offense quickly countered. South Carolina pieced together a quick six-play, 67 yard drive and ended it with a bang when quarterback Jason Brown fired a bullet to Josh Vann for the 7-yard go-ahead score.

The Brown-to-Vann touchdown gave South Carolina a 21-17 lead — its first of the evening — with 4:57 left in the third. Brown ended the night 10-of-15 passing for 157 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Auburn seemed set to cut South Carolina’s lead in the early minutes of the fourth quarter. Those hopes, however, were dashed when Patton missed a 25-yard attempt with 14:10 to go in the game.

“I just goes back to being consistent,” Jackson said about the offense. “I don’t think they changed up anything or did anything special. It just comes down to us making plays and knowing what we’ve got to do to just continue to make plays and keep that momentum going.”

Auburn endured yet another strong start to the action followed by the opponent roaring to life.

It took Finley one drive to settle in, but by Auburn’s second possession the sophomore seemed to be in a rhythm. Finley orchestrated an impressive six-play, 48-yard drive and ended it by connecting with Demetris Robertson on a 10-yard touchdown pass almost midway through the opening quarter.

Finley ended the night 17-of-32 passing for 188 yards with one touchdown.

While the Tigers’ defense held firm, the offense took advantage.

Following safety Donovan Kaufman’s 38-yard interception return, Auburn mixed in its run game and pass game after the pick, with Finley’s 28-yard strike to Jackson setting the Tigers up well as they searched for more points.

Thanks to running back Tank Bigsby, it didn’t take Auburn long to find them.

Bigsby took a hand-off up the middle inside the South Carolina 10, noticed a hole to his right and turned on the jets as he raced toward the corner of the end zone. Bigsby stiff-armed a would-be tackler as he fell into the end zone, an effort which put the Tigers up 14-0 with 2:37 left in the first quarter.

Bigsby ended the loss with 22 carries for 164 yards and one touchdown.

As impressive as Auburn’s open to the first half was, South Carolina proved it was hardly fazed.

The Gamecocks leaned heavily on its run game early in the second quarter to fuel a 10-play, 61-yard drive. South Carolina gambled and won big on the drive’s final play: The Gamecocks went for it on a fourth-and-3, and as the Auburn defense blitzed, running back White leaked out of the backfield.

Brown had little trouble hitting White, who easily raced down the left sideline to score on a 28-yard pass and cut Auburn’s lead in half.

Auburn soon gambled on fourth down as well, though the Tigers’ decision was much more costly.

Facing a fourth-and-1 on their own 35 with just over three minutes left until halftime, the Tigers decided to leave the offense on the field and try to move the chains. That plan, however, backfired: Auburn’s play-action pass offered little help downfield, and Finley’s throw intended for Robertson fell well ahead of the intended target.

South Carolina made sure to make Auburn pay for its mistake.

The Gamecocks ran the ball on five straight plays before getting creative near the goal line. Brown executed his own play-action and fired to former offensive guard-turned fullback Trai Jones, who made the catch and found the end zone for a 3-yard score.

The Brown-to-Jones play tied the game with only 24 seconds to go until halftime.

Auburn closes the regular season next Saturday by hosting No. 2 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. While the challenge will be high against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers recognize the rivalry game as a chance to set things right.

“Obviously we’re disappointed, especially with just the way the game ended,” said linebacker Chandler Wooten, who tied for a team-high six tackles. “All we can do is come back next week and get back to work.”

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