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January 1, 2007

Auburn edges Nebraska to win Cotton Bowl

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DALLAS - Carl Stewart scored the only two times he touched the ball, John Vaughn kicked a 42-yard field goal and Auburn's defense held at the end to give the No. 10 Tigers a 17-14 victory over No. 22 Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl on Monday.

The Cornhuskers (9-5) opened with a dominating drive, but couldn't do much else right in their first January game in five years. Their bid for a 10-win season ended when Zac Taylor threw an incompletion on fourth-and-11 from the Auburn 30 with 2:03 left.

Vaughn's field goal midway through the third quarter accounted for the only points scored after halftime.

The Tigers were the only team this season to beat two teams in the Bowl Championship Series.

Nebraska still had a chance with 5:24 left when Stewart Bradley sacked Brandon Cox, stripped the ball and recovered at the Auburn 42.

The Cornhuskers got to the 30, after converting their first third down since their opening drive. But Taylor was under heavy pressure on fourth down when he threw the ball well over the head of his intended receiver and out of bounds with 2:03 left.

Auburn couldn't run the clock out because Kenny Irons was stopped a foot short on third-and-2. After initially being ruled a first down, officials reviewed the play and changed the spot.

The Tigers were forced to punt, and Taylor had just one more chance - a long desperation pass that dropped incomplete in a group of players near the 25.

While Nebraska is trying to return to national prominence under coach Bill Callahan, Auburn played in its seventh straight bowl under Tommy Tuberville - the third straight in January. The Tigers are 33-5 the past three seasons, a mark bettered only by Southern California and Texas, the last two national champions.

Even though the Tigers finished with a victory, they still had to wonder what might have been had they not lost to Georgia and Arkansas, the latter which instead won the SEC West.

Consider that SEC champion Florida, whose only loss this season was at Auburn in mid-October, is playing in the BCS championship game against Ohio State.

Nebraska opened with an 80-yard drive that took more than half of the first quarter. Marlon Lucky touched the ball on 11 of the 15 plays, converting a third-and-19 from midfield when he caught a shuffle pass and got just enough yards for a first down.

Taylor threw a 13-yard TD pass to Nate Swift, who got open behind the Auburn defenders for a 7-0 lead.

Lucky accounted for 155 of Nebraska's 230 total yards, with 25 carries for 88 yards and six catches for 67 yards. Taylor was 14-of-26 passing for 126 yards.

After that dominating opening drive, including four third-down conversions, the Cornhuskers started making mistakes.

Taylor threw his next pass behind Terrence Nunn. The ball bounced off the receiver's hands and was plucked out of the air by linebacker Karibi Dede, who rambled 52 yards to the 9.

Stewart then caught a pass out of the backfield and scored untouched.

Then on fourth-and-1 from their own 29, the Cornhuskers tried a fake punt. They instead fumbled on an attempted reverse and lost 15 yards.

Courtney Taylor, who became Auburn's career receiving leader, had a leaping 12-yard catch to set up Stewart's 1-yard TD plunge. Stewart had only two TDs in the regular season, one of those in the opener.

Brandon Jackson, the All-Big 12 running back who injured his right hand in the Big 12 championship game loss to Oklahoma, didn't get a carry until the second quarter. He gained 9 yards with a 15-yard facemask penalty tacked on, then took a handoff to the left and studder-stepped past cornerback Patrick Lee for a 20-yard TD.

Nebraska didn't even make a bowl two years ago, when it ended Callahan's first season with a losing record that snapped Nebraska's NCAA-record streak of 35 straight bowl appearances. The Cornhuskers won the Big 12 North this season.

For more coverage of the Auburn Tigers, check out AuburnSports.com; for more coverage of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, check out HuskersIllustrated.com.

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