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October 27, 2007Brandon Cox threw a 34-yard scoring pass to Rod Smith in the final minutes and Brad Lester rushed for a career-high 96 yards, helping No. 23 Auburn hold on for a 17-3 victory over Mississippi on Saturday and avoid another down-to-the-wire finish.
Patrick Lee set up the drive with an interception in the end zone for the Tigers (6-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference), who were coming off a last-second loss at No. 3 LSU.
They got a scare from the Rebels (2-7, 0-6), double-digit underdogs still seeking their first league win.
Down 10-3, Ole Miss had the makings of an impressive tying drive. Starting from their own 1, the Rebels surged from the goal line with three consecutive rushes. Quarterback Seth Adams was hurt on the third play on a hard hit by Tray Blackmon at the end of a run.
Backup Brent Schaeffer, who nearly led Ole Miss to an upset in last season's meeting, completed his first three passes and had a 7-yard run to keep the Rebels moving downfield. Then, he hurled a pass into the end zone with Antonio Coleman rushing toward him.
Lee stood alone waiting for the ball with no receiver within several yards of the play.
That gave Cox and Auburn the ball with 7:03 to go and a chance to put the game away. Cox converted third-down plays with a 23-yard pass to Smith and a 12-yarder to Montez Billings.
His biggest throw came on third-and-8 when he again hit Smith, who spun away from a defender and sprinted into the end zone with 3:15 to play. The TD pass ensured Auburn wouldn't have a seventh game decided in the final two minutes.
Smith finished with a career-high 111 yards on eight catches.
Lester had 23 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Auburn got a scare late in the first half when Cox headed for the locker room with more than three minutes left with what turned out to be a bruised right, nonthrowing shoulder.
It didn't appear to affect him. Cox completed 16-of-26 passes for 189 yards. Ben Tate rushed for 72 yards and the Tigers opened with nine straight running plays.
Adams, who returned for the Rebels' final drive, completed 11-of-24 passes for 89 yards and was sacked three times, twice by Coleman.
Auburn limited BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the league's No. 4 rusher, to 62 yards on 13 carries.
The Tigers outgained Ole Miss 420-193 and held a nearly 13-minute advantage in time of possession.
The Rebels had cut the halftime deficit to 7-3 on a 51-yard field goal by Joshua Shene as time expired. He first made a 41-yarder but Ole Miss was called for holding, forcing him to try an even longer one. The kick capped a 13-play drive for an offense that had only 8 yards in the first quarter.
The Tigers missed scoring chances on their first drives of the game and the second half with a fumble and a missed 42-yard field goal attempt by Zach Kutch. Kutch was subbing for Wes Byrum, who would come in and kick a 36-yarder later in the quarter despite an injured quadriceps muscle for the 10-3 lead.