Auburn wins the defensive battle, tops California 14-10

Auburn safety Donovan Kaufman (5) celebrates with teammates after recovering a fumble by...
Auburn safety Donovan Kaufman (5) celebrates with teammates after recovering a fumble by California running back Isaiah Ifanse during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)(Godofredo A. Vásquez | AP)
Published: Sep. 10, 2023 at 1:03 AM CDT
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BERKELEY, Calif. (WSFA) - The Auburn Tigers came out on top Saturday night in Berkeley against the California Golden Bears. It was a game dominated by defense and untimely turnovers, but the Tigers squeaked out a 14-10 victory over Cal thanks to a late touchdown pass followed by an Auburn interception in the final minutes.

Auburn got off to a rough start. On the game’s opening drive, as quarterback Payton Thorne attempted to convert a third down with his legs, he lost the ball on the sideline, turning it over to Cal. Cal took over with the ball on the Auburn 35.

The Golden Bears were able to convert on fourth and one to keep the drive alive, and then, on the next play, Monroe Young fumbled the ball but was able to recover it. The drive stalled after that, and Cal was forced to settle with a field goal.

The Auburn offense continued to struggle to find any rhythm on the ensuing drive and failed to gain any positive yardage. However, the defense came up big on Cal’s next offensive drive and sacked Cal quarterback Ben Finley on 3rd and 10, forcing the Cal field goal unit to come out again. This time, the Cal kicker could not send it through the uprights, and the game remained 3-0 in favor of the home team.

In the second quarter, the Auburn defense came up with a big turnover deep in Cal territory. Isaiah Ifanse was looking to run the ball when it was stripped by Donovan Kaufman. After a short review, the call stood, and Auburn’s offense was gifted their best field position all night.

To nobody’s surprise, Auburn came out with the Robbie Ashford redzone package to start the drive. However, Cal’s run defense was up to the challenge, which resulted in Payton Thorne returning to the field for a crucial third down play. Thorne found Jay Fair, and Fair rumbled into the endzone for the game’s first touchdown four minutes into the second quarter.

When the Auburn offense came on the field again, it looked like they were finding a rhythm in the run game with Damari Alston. Things turned south when Alston fumbled the ball after bouncing through tackles. Cal’s defense came up with the ball, and the defensive war between the two games continued.

This time when the Golden Bear offense took the field, they showed their explosive speed and stormed down the field. Running back Jaydn Ott finished off the drive with a run Cal alum Marshawn Lynch would be proud of. Ott powered his way 14 yards down the field and smashed through three Auburn defenders at the goal line for the first Golden Bears touchdown of the night.

Late in the second quarter, the Auburn offense coughed up the ball again. One first down, Thorne was looking for Shane Hooks but overthrew the ball, and it was intercepted. Cal took over on the Auburn 34 with just over a minute remaining in the half.

The Tiger defense continued their strong play and held the Golden Bears to a field goal attempt. Cal kicker Michael Luckhurst sent the ball through the uprights. However, a very costly holding call erased the play, and Cal was forced to replay the down.

Now out of field goal range, the Golden Bears took to the air with no time on the clock. Auburn’s Jaylin Simpson came down with the hail marry ball, and the teams entered the locker room with Cal leading Auburn 10-7.

The defenses continued to dominate in the third quarter. It wasn’t until late in the quarter that we saw an offense in scoring range. Cal took the ball over on downs in Auburn territory and moved the ball well, even converting on fourth down to keep the drive alive. However, the Auburn defense did what they had all night, forcing the Golden Bears to attempt another field goal. Luckhurst lined up for a 42-yard field goal and hooked it wide right, missing his second of the night.

Cal marched down the field again on the opening drive of the fourth quarter, but once again, when in scoring range, they had to call on the field goal unit thanks to Eugene Asante coming up with a clutch third-down sack for Auburn.

Once again, Luckhurst lined up for a field goal to try and extend the lead, but for the third time of the night, he missed.

On the ensuing drive, the Auburn offense did something they hadn’t done all game: move the ball down the field. Thorne found a rhythm in the passing game and rolled down the field 69 yards. Thorne finished off the drive with a pass to Rivaldo Fairweather in the corner of the endzone. Fairweather snatched the ball out of the air, and the Tigers were back on top for the first time since early in the second quarter.

Auburn forced Cal to a three and out after the touchdown and took back over looking to slow things down. Cal’s defense had other plans when they hit the field again. McMorris got his hand on the ball when Tiger running back Jarquez Hunter was going down, forcing a fumble that the Golden Bears recovered.

With under five minutes remaining and Cal in Auburn territory, the Auburn defense was asked once again to come up with a big stop. Again, the defense answered the bell, and Cal, in field goal range, faced a tough decision after missing three field goals on the night. They opted to go for it and went to the air. That decision didn’t work out either. D.J. James came up with a huge interception in the endzone for a touchback, and it was Auburn ball with 1:44 remaining in the game.

When the clock hit zero, the Tigers prevailed in a defense-dominated game. However, at the end of the day the only stat that matters was 14-10.

Auburn will be back at it next weekend when they start SEC play against Texas A&M on the road.

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