AUBURN - In the end, Auburn's football team needed one more drive, one more big play. It wasn't to be. A celebration that might have been turned into a gut-wrenching loss as No. 2 LSU escaped Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night with a 12-10 victory.
Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace got the first playing time of his career/Robin Conn photo
LSU jumped to a 9-0 lead after a fumble on Auburn's 2-yard line turned into a safety and a touchdown. But Corey Lemonier knocked the ball loose from quarterback Zach Mettenberger at the LSU 26. After Onterio McCalebb lost 4 yards, Tre Mason ran for 26. McCalebb took it in from the 4 o the last play of the first quarter.
Cody Parkey finished off a 41-yard drive with a 40-yard field goal with 1:21 left in the second quarter and the game was on.
Quan Bray's fumbled punt gave LSU the opportunity it needed to take the lead, and Drew Alleman's field goal made it 12-10 with 5:26 left in the third quarter.
Auburn almost got it back plus more when McCalebb returned the ensuing kickoff 43 yards and was a half a step or less from going the distance. Late in the third quarter, McCalebb was inches away again after getting the ball from freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace. He gained 20 yards, but Eric Reid grabbed the back of his jersey and wouldn't let go.
On the same drive, the Tigers faced second-and-2 at the LSU 38, but Mason lost 2 yards on second down and quarterback Kiehl Frazier missed McCalebb, who was open, on third down.
Auburn never really got close again.
The defense gave up 351 yards, but 120 of those were in the fourth quarter. The offense managed just 183 yards and nine first downs.
Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said it was the most painful loss of his Auburn career.
"Disappointing," Lutzenkirchen said. "We fought our tails off. The defense played really well. The offense didn't. We kept the defense on the field most of the game, and you can't do that. We know we can play with anybody in the country. We just have to put it all together. We blocked it down to the end with two top 10 teams (Clemson and LSU). We know it's there, so we have to keep getting better and finish."
There was a lot of talk about finishing or lack of it in the Auburn locker room.
"We played with a lot of passion, a lot of energy," senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell said. "A lot of guys had fun competing out there tonight. We just came up a little short. That's the only thing I see missing. Execution, of course, was part, but we just have to learn how to finish the game."
Said head coach Gene Chizik: "I felt good going into the game, but we didn't finish. There will be a day when we will. We are going to continue to grind and work until we can."
As the clock moved inside five minutes, Auburn reached midfield but stalled. Steven Clark's punt went just 23 yards. Facing third-and 4 at his own 33, Mettenberger threw a bold throwback pass all the way across the field to Spencer Ware, who broke through Jonathan Evans' tackle and ran to the Auburn 34. Alleman missed a 34-yard field goal with 39 seconds left. Auburn could get no further than its own 37.
Tre Mason had 54 yards on nine carries for Auburn. McCalebb had 24 yards on 11 carries. Frazier completed 13-of-22 passes for 97 yards with two interceptions, one of those on the final play of the game.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed 15-of-27 passes for 169 yards. Spencer Ware rushed 16 times for 90 yards.
"We really left a lot of plays out there," Frazier said.
Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace got his first playing time of the season, running mostly zone read plays.
Robenson Therezie, who had moved from cornerback to running back, got significant playing time at cornerback Saturday. Erique Florence got his first significant playing time of the season at safety. Freshman middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy played in short-yardage situations.
True freshman Pat Miller got the first start of his career at right tackle.
Auburn fell to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the Southeastern Conference. LSU improved to 4-0 and 1-0. Auburn has Saturday off before playing Arkansas at Jordan-are on Oct. 6. The Razorbacks lost their third straight home game Saturday, falling 35-26 to Rutgers. They play at Texas A&M next Saturday.