ATLANTA, GA (WIS) - Auburn quarterback Cam Newton gave the Tigers an early lead against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Championship game on Saturday, and showed no signs of relinquishing that edge as Auburn routed the Gamecocks 56-17 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
No matter how hard Steve Spurrier tugged on his visor or how deep he reached into his bag of tricks, the coach couldn't will South Carolina past Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers. The 65-year-old Spurrier, returning to his first SEC Championship game in 10 years, was animated as ever on the sideline.
Spurrier pulled his visor down over his face in disgust after an Auburn touchdown early in the game. He threw the visor to the ground in anguish after Cam Newton's crushing Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half.
Spurrier won six SEC championships at Florida, where the Gators were often the favorite in the title game. Spurrier's Gamecocks couldn't overcome their underdog role against No. 2 Auburn.
Newton started off the game with a touchdown pass to RB Onterio McCalebb, and the Gamecocks found themselves down 7-0 just a minute into the game. The lead was short-lived, however, as Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia responded with a touchdown pass to Patrick DiMarco to tie the score.
But after Carolina missed several tackles on Newton on the next drive, the Heisman hopeful made it into the end zone to put the Tigers up 14-7 with 5:39 left in the first quarter. After Carolina's next drive came up short, Newton found WR Darvin Adams for a 54-yard touchdown pass with 2:09 left in the quarter.
It looked as if Carolina would go into the locker rooms down by two touchdowns at halftime, but Garcia found running back Marcus Lattimore with just 30 seconds left in the half. Lattimore took the ball to the goal line, and a short pass to receiver Alshon Jeffery a play later brought the score to 21-14.
Just as quickly, however, a Hail Mary pass from Newton in the closing seconds of the half was tipped off Devonte Holloman's fingers and landed in the hands of an Auburn receiver. The touchdown meant Carolina would indeed end the half down by two touchdowns, with the score at 28-14.
From that, there was no looking back for Auburn. Newton ran in a touchdown halfway through the third quarter, and just a few seconds later the Tigers scored again off a pick-six by Auburn's T'Sharvan Bell. Carolina was down 42-14 by then, and victory seemed well out of reach for the Gamecocks.
In the fourth quarter, Newton added insult to injury with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Emory Blake that extended Auburn's lead to 35. Carolina responded a few minutes later with a field goal from Spencer Lanning, but two missed attempts earlier in the game meant there was no hope of a late Gamecock comeback.
Garcia ended the game with 16 completed passes of 28 attempts for 170 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Backup QB Connor Shaw came into the game late in the fourth quarter, and completed four of five pass attempts for 23 yards.
USC fans back in Columbia are proud of their team, despite the loss. South Carolina fans snapped pictures in front of large-screen TVs and watched the game on outdoor terraces in the rain in Columbia.
When the game finally ended, Gamecock supporters picked up their heads and applauded a season like few others in school history. Downtown Columbia was filled with USC fans eager to cheer on the team.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive says the established facts of the controversial Cam Newton recruitment case merited the NCAA's swift reinstatement of the Auburn quarterback. Swift said the priority for the NCAA reinstatement committee "is to determine what's fair to the student-athlete."
He says he supports Newton because there is currently "no evidence available" that the Heisman favorite knew his father was seeking money for his son to sign with Mississippi State - or that Cam Newton received anything.
Slive, who calls Cecil Newton's conduct "reprehensible", also says Newton should play because there's no indication Auburn was involved in the pay-for-play scheme.