AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Cam Newton kept looking up at the scoreboard, amazed as anyone at the numbers he saw, climbing higher and higher with each possession.
He wondered how many points it would take to win.
Fifty? Sixty? Seventy?
“I’m sitting there on the sideline saying, ‘Wow, we have this many points, and they have that many points,’” Auburn’s do-it-all quarterback said. “At one point, we didn’t want to score too fast because it was like a heavyweight boxing match.”
When this offensive slugfest was done, the No. 7 Tigers had a mind-boggling 65-43 victory over 12th-ranked Arkansas on Saturday, the teams combining on a record for points in a Southeastern Conference game that didn’t go to overtime.
Newton left little doubt he deserves to be in the mix for the Heisman Trophy after running for 188 yards, passing for 140 and having a hand in four touchdowns.
But let’s not forget a defense that finally came up with some big stops in the fourth quarter. And certainly remember two crucial, and sure to be debated, calls from the replay booth, both of which upheld Auburn touchdowns and just as easily could’ve gone Arkansas’ way.
“We refuse to lose,” Newton said.
He led Auburn (7-0, 4-0 SEC) with three touchdown runs, including a 3-yarder with 8½ minutes remaining that essentially clinched it. Newton also threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Emory Blake with 11:44 remaining, giving Auburn the lead for good at 44-43.
Arkansas (4-2, 1-2) might have seen its SEC title hopes dashed and also lost its own Heisman hopeful, quarterback Ryan Mallett, who went out in the first half after taking a blow to the head. But Tyler Wilson took over at quarterback and the Razorbacks didn’t miss a beat — not until the fourth quarter, anyway.
Auburn scored the final 28 points in a dizzying display, putting up four touchdowns in a little over 5 minutes to finally finish this one, setting off a raucous celebration as the sun set on the Plains.
Newton ran around, over and right through the Razorbacks, not to mention a highly efficient 10-of-14 passing performance.
“No. 2 is one spectacular football player,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “I’m not one to go out on a limb, but everyone in the world can see it.”
On one touchdown, the 6-foot-6, 250-pounder barreled right over linebacker Jerico Nelson like he was nothing more than a kicker trying to make the stop. On another, Newton took a shotgun snap from the 5 to get a running start so he could soar over everyone for the score.
Wilson completed 15 of his first 17 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns, the last of them a 23-yarder to Greg Childs that gave the Razorbacks a 43-37 lead with 14:09 remaining.
“There’s a point where you think, ‘This night is going to be magical,’” Wilson said.
But 43 weren’t nearly enough points, not in a game that broke the previous SEC scoring record: South Carolina’s 65-39 victory over Mississippi State in 1995.
It was all Auburn from there. Well, Auburn and the guys upstairs, who already had made a crucial ruling in the first half that preserved a touchdown for the Tigers.
After Newton’s scoring pass to Blake, Arkansas picked up one first down and appeared to have another when Broderick Green barreled around right end for 4 yards. As he was brought down by Craig Stevens and Mike Blanc, the ball suddenly popped loose.
Zac Etheridge picked it up for Auburn and took off the other way, going 47 yards to the end zone.
Then, it was time for the replay officials to do their thing. The video appeared to show Green putting a knee on the ground a split-second before the ball popped loose and he was rolling over a defender. Apparently, though, that wasn’t definitive enough to overturn the call on the field.
“The fumble recovery started it all,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “That is what changed the game.”
On the very next snap, Wilson finally cracked. An ill-advised pass downfield was picked off by Bynes. He returned it 33 yards to the Arkansas 7, and there was no way to stop Newton from there. He rushed up the middle for 4 yards, then finished it off with more carry up the middle.
He hopped along the end line, whipping up the Auburn student body before he skipped away toward the bench.
Auburn finally had enough points to hold off the Razorbacks, adding one more touchdown after Wilson’s second pick to win a game that featured a staggering 1,036 yards, a blocked punt and a 99-yard kickoff return by Auburn’s Onterio McCalebb.
This was supposed to be one of the year’s top quarterback matchups, but Mallett didn’t even make it to halftime. He was knocked out after throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first score — long forgotten by the end.
Wilson was quite the replacement for a guy averaging nearly 350 yards per game passing. The sophomore went to Childs for a pair of TDs, also connecting on a 34-yarder, and hooked up with Joe Adams on a 24-yard score and Ronnie Wingo on a 37-yarder.
“I was really happy with the way our guys rallied around Tyler Wilson,” Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said.
The replay calls all went Auburn’s way, though, showing that disputes can occur even with the benefit of video. The Tigers’ first big break came when Mario Fannin took a handoff at the 4 and tumbled into the end zone. Only one problem: The ball was sitting back at the 1. The Razorbacks scooped it up and thought they had the turnover.
The officials huddled. While there had been no apparent touchdown signal, they finally ruled that Fannin had crossed the line before he lost the ball. That was crucial, because it wasn’t possible from the various replay angles to tell if Tramine Thomas knocked the ball loose before Fannin scored.
So the Tigers got to celebrate. It wouldn’t be the last time.
The Associated Press