Auburn’s Tre Mason (21) celebrates with head coach Gus Malzahn, right, after defeating Missouri 59-42 during the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Saturday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
SEC Championship Game
Auburn and Missouri face off in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.
ATLANTA — Auburn didn’t need a late miracle this time. A record performance from Tre Mason was enough to cap a stunning worst-to-first run to the Southeastern Conference title in Gus Malzahn’s first year as coach.
Winless in league play a year ago, third-ranked Auburn (12-1) defeated fifth-ranked Missouri, 59-42, behind Mason’s 304 yards rushing and four touchdowns before 75,632 at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
“The offensive line opened up some of the biggest holes I’ve ever run through,” said Mason, who carried the ball 46 times and is making a late bid for Heisman Trophy consideration.
“We gone from being one of the worst teams in college football to one of the best and we couldn’t have done it without Coach Malzahn.”
“We’ve come a long way and we’re playing our best football right now,” Malzahn said. “We can run the ball on anyone.”
Auburn finished with 677 total yards, including 545 on the ground, in the highest scoring SEC Championship Game. Auburn bettered the record 56 points it scored against South Carolina in winning the 2010 title en route to the national championship and the combined score surpassed Florida’s 45-30 victory over Alabama in 1996.
“It’s a great scheme and they’ve got a lot of talent,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I give them all the credit in the world.”
Missouri’s James Franklin completed 21 of 37 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns, two to Dorial Green-Beckham, but Missouri (11-2) couldn’t stop Auburn’s spread attack and failed in its attempt to claim the SEC title in its second year in the conference.
“They are absolutely crushed,” Pinkel said of his team. “If we get in this situation again, hopefully we’ll handle it better.”
In the game’s seventh lead change, Corey Grant put Auburn ahead for good on a two-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and Cameron Artis-Payne scored from 15 yards to make it 45-34 late in quarter.
Henry Josey broke off a 62-yard run for Missouri to set up Franklin’s 10-yard score and the two-point conversion run by the quarterback cut Auburn’s lead to three points going into the final quarter.
Auburn, however, did not waiver.
Mason, the obvious choice as MVP, scored from a yard out on fourth down with 11 minutes remaining to cap a 79-yard drive and reached the end zone again from 13 yards with four minutes remaining on the first play after Franklin’s fourth-down pass to Green-Beckham was knocked down by Chris Davis, the last-second hero in Auburn’s upset of Alabama.
“We were trying to win a game,” Pinkel said of the gamble.
Auburn led, 28-27, after a wild first half, the combined 55 points 13 more than the previous record. The teams amassed 680 yards, with Auburn getting 282 of its 376 on the ground, as Missouri could not contain Mason.
Missouri’s Kony Ealy stripped Nick Marshall of the ball on Auburn’s opening possession and Matt Hoch recovered, setting up a 42-yard field by Andrew Baggett.
However, Auburn bounced back with two quick 75-yard drives to one for Missouri and led, 14-10, after a first quarter that set the tone for what was to come.
Marshall, who finished with 101 yards rushing and 132 passing, threw a 38-yard touchdown to Sammie Coates and ran nine yards to score himself, while Missouri’s first-quarter touchdown came on a 28-yard pass from Franklin to Green-Beckham.
Ealy forced Marshall to fumble again early in the second quarter and E.J. Gaines ran 11 yards for the Missouri touchdown. Auburn, however, sandwiched two more fast-strike 75-yard drives around a 36-yard field goal by Baggett.
Mason had touchdown runs of seven and three yards, finishing the half with 195 yards, six away from the previous SEC Championship Game record set by Louisiana State’s Justin Vincent in 2003. He covered the 75 yards on the final drive himself in four plays, breaking off a 52-yard run to get it started.
Missouri trailed by only a point at halftime when Green-Beckham hauled in a long pass from Franklin for a 55-yard score with 18 seconds left. It took Missouri six plays and 52 seconds to cover 92 yards.
Auburn’s Cody Parkey, who missed from 54 yards in the second quarter, set the SEC Championship Game record with a 52-yard field goal early in the third quarter, but Missouri went back ahead briefly on a 10-yard scoring pass from Franklin to Marcus Murphy.
It was Auburn’s day and season, though.
“I’m living a dream right now,” Malzahn said.
NOTES: Malzahn was rewarded for Auburn’s turnaround with a six-year contract extension that has a $3.85 million salary for next season and a $250,000 raise in each subsequent year. He was paid $2.3 million this season. … Missouri and Auburn were a combined 2-14 in the SEC last season, with Auburn going 0-8 in Gene Chizik’s final season as coach. … Auburn and Missouri ranked one-two in rushing this season in the SEC, but Auburn had an 81-yard per game edge. … The teams played only once previously, with Missouri winning, 34-17, in the Sun Bowl at the end of the 1973 season.