Gwinnett grads relish roles in Auburn's SEC title

Auburn’s Kenny Flowers, a Parkview grad, celebrates with the fans following the SEC championship game on Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Auburn defeated Missouri 59-42. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

Auburn’s Kenny Flowers, a Parkview grad, celebrates with the fans following the SEC championship game on Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Auburn defeated Missouri 59-42. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)

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ATLANTA — The first chance to play in a Southeastern Conference Championship Game probably wasn’t quite the experience each of Auburn’s three Gwinnett grads expected it to be.

But none of them will argue with the results — a Tigers’ 59-42 win over Missouri on Saturday before a sellout crowd of 75,632 fans at the Georgia Dome.

“We’ll take it any day, any time,” said sophomore linebacker, and Parkview grad, Kenny Flowers. “It feels real good. We came in and we expected (to win).”

What none of the Gwinnett trio expected — or any of the Tigers, for that matter — was for the game to turn into the offensive free-for-all that it became.

With the two teams shattering records left and right by combining for 101 points and 1,211 yards of total offense, the pace was probably roughest on junior defensive tackle Ben Bradley.

But as rough a time as the Missouri offense gave the 6-foot-1, 295-pound Norcross grad and his cohorts, they came up with stops when they needed to to make the outcome more than satisfactory.

“This is my first SEC Championship Game, and hopefully, it won’t be my last,” said Bradley, who didn’t record a tackle, but did have a quarterback hurry on the day. “It was great coming home to Georgia.”

The Gwinnett grad who, surprisingly, had the least time on the field on the day was junior tight end C.J. Uzomah.

Being limited to just one series due to an unspecified injury would normally be difficult to take for someone who starts and plays as many snaps as Uzomah does.

That might be particularly true for an offensive player in a game with as many points and yards as there were.

Still, the 6-4, 258-pound North Gwinnett grad was all smiles during the postgame celebration, especially since he played a big part in the Tigers’ success during the season.

“I was in there a little bit,” said Uzomah, who is Auburn’s sixth-leading receiver with nine catches for 246 yards and 3 TDs on the season. “It was really a precautionary thing … but it’s unbelievable coming back to my hometown … and (struggling) last year and Coach (Gus) Malzahn taking over the program, and here we are — SEC champions. It’s all unbelievable. “This is great. We all feel like we’re a vital part of this offense. We ran for (545) yards (Saturday), and we take pride in our perimeter blocking. It’s all just unbelievable.”

Bradley’s first opportunity to take the field came during a key early sequence after Missouri had taken possession at the Auburn 43-yard line following Matt Hoch’s recovery of a Nick Marshall fumble just 3:02 after the opening kickoff.

But the 6-foot-1, 295-pound junior and his Auburn cohorts survived the ensuing drive and forced Missouri to settle for Andrew Baggett’s 42-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead 1:08 later at the 10:50 mark.

“That was big because that could’ve changed he momentum if they’d have scored (a touchdown) right there,” Bradley said. “We came through with some big stops, and we had to because (Missouri is) a good offense.”

Flowers, who plays primarily on special teams, nearly had one of the game’s more impactful plays late in the first quarter when he was in the middle of a pile-up going after a daring onside kick following Nick Marshall’s 9-yard TD run that gave Auburn a 14-10 lead with 4:09 left in the first quarter.

Though he was beaten to the ball by his kicker, Cody Parkey, 6-1, 240-pound sophomore was just happy to contribute whatever he could to the Tigers’ victory.

“My job is to stay down and make sure nothing tricky happens,” Flowers said. “The whole team did our jobs, and we came out with a win.

“We had to be real aggressive. … We got on top, and it turned out good.”