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Oregon can't hold lead; Ducks fall 27-21 to Auburn on touchdown pass in final seconds

COURTESY PHOTO: SRENA MORONES - Quarterback Justin Hebert (center) and the Ducksleave thefield after Saturday's 27-21 loss to Auburn.In a stunning defeat, by an Oregon program that has suffered some stunning losses in recent years, Auburn rallied for three second-half touchdowns, including the game-winning score with nine seconds left, to beat the Ducks 27-21 in a battle of nationally ranked teams Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Oregon scored a touchdown on its first drive and led until true freshman quarterback Bo Nix's stunning 26-yard touchdown pass.

Rather than play it safe for a game-winning field-goal try, the Tigers, who had no timeouts, went for the touchdown, and 6-3 receiver Seth Williams jumped above defensive back Verone McKinley III to come down with the score. The extra-point kick made it 27-21.

After a good kickoff return, the Ducks had one play, but QB Justin Herbert's pass soared out of the end zone.

It was a devastating loss both for Oregon (0-1), which entered the game ranked 11th in one poll, and for the Pac-12, which had talked about earning respect with nonleague wins.

The Oregon defense, led by new coordinator Andy Avalos, played well for much of the night, but the Tigers (1-0) of the Southeastern Conference found a way to score the final 21 points and deal the Ducks and the conference a big setback.

Oregon led 21-6 after scoring an early third-quarter touchdown.

Auburn rallied with its running game and with Nix making plays. Oregon was nursing a 21-20 lead when, after Auburn stuffed CJ Verdell on a fourth-and-1 run, the Ducks' defense came through in the clutch and forced a three-and-out with under five minutes left.

Then, after a UO punt, the Tigers had 2:14 to score. Nix scrambled on fourth-and-3, diving for the first down. Maneuvering for an expected field-goal attempt, Nix hit on a couple passes to set up the late heroics. It would have been a 43-yard field goal without the improbable Nix-to-Williams pass.

The Ducks now will prepare for another nonleague game, against Nevada, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 at Autzen Stadium.

Herbert went 28 of 37 for 242 yards, and had a first-half TD pass. Verdell had 76 yards rushing on 14 carries, and Jaylon Redd had nine receptions and Johnny Johnson III seven, combining for 162 yards.

Nix looked overwhelmed at times, and then the dual-threat QB made great plays. He went 13 of 31 for 177 yards and two TDs with two first-half interceptions. JaTarvious Whitlow rushed for 110 yards on 24 carries.

Backed by its defense, the Ducks managed to hold the lead for all but nine seconds. Herbert hit on third-down passes to Spencer Webb and Johnny Johnson and, with running backs Verdell and Travis Dye hobbled, third-string Darrian Felix finished the drive with a 6-yard TD run, making the score 21-6 in the third quarter.

But Auburn put together some tempo and plays, including a 36-yard run by Eli Stove, and scored a touchdown, as Nix tossed an 11-yard TD pass to Stove against a scrambling UO defense to make cut the deficit to 21-13.

The Tigers forced a third consecutive UO punt and then marched for another touchdown, thanks to the legs of Whitlow and a couple throws by Nix. Whitlow, who earlier had a 31-yard run, ran seven yards to the UO 1, and backup QB Joey Gatewood scored on a 1-yard TD run. Auburn opted to go for the extra-point kick after a false-start penalty on the 2-point alignment. It was 21-20, and, later, Oregon's failed fourth-down play and another punt gave Auburn life to win the game.

Oregon led 14-6 at halftime, but missed two other opportunities for points through a dropped pass followed by a missed field-goal attempt and a fumble near the goal line.

But, the defense was stellar, harassing the dual-threat Nix (6 of 18 for 91 yards). The Ducks picked him off twice — by Jevon Holland and Thomas Graham Jr. — and rallied for stops.

The Ducks looked great on their first two drives.

With a depleted receiver corps made worse by Juwan Johnson's late scratch from the game and tight end Cam McCormick's absence because of an injury, Johnny Johnson gave UO a lift with a 47-yard reception from Herbert. Despite an overturned TD, the Ducks scored on Verdell's 1-yard TD run.

After forcing a punt, the Ducks moved into scoring position again. But Bryan Addison dropped a Herbert pass in the end zone, and then freshman kicker Camden Lewis missed a 20-yard field-goal attempt.

Nix hit Will Hastings for a long pass, but the UO defense stiffened and Auburn settled for Anders Carlson's 40-yard field goal.

The Ducks bounced back, as Verdell ripped off a run, followed by a personal foul (face mask) penalty on Auburn. Another receiver stepped up, as Webb jumped and caught Herbert's 20-yard TD pass to make it a 14-3 lead.

Things got interesting. Auburn drove, but Graham picked off Nix's bad pass inside the UO 15.

Later, Holland scampered 81 yards on a punt return to the Auburn 9. But Herbert fumbled on a bad handoff with Verdell, and Auburn defensive lineman Big Kat Bryant rambled 83 yards the other way. Addison, making up for his drop, caught the big man at the UO 3.

And again, the UO defense stood firm, with Carlson's 25-yard field goal making the score 14-6.

Holland picked off Nix later, but after a big punt return and a bad personal foul penalty by punter Blake Maimone on the tackle, the Tigers had the ball at the UO 26 with 52 seconds left.

The defense pushed back the Tigers, and Carlson's 42-yard field goal attempt went wide right.

OREGON 14 0 7 0 — 21

AUBURN 3 3 7 14 — 27

FIRST QUARTER

OREGON — CJ Verdell 1 run (Camden Lewis kick), 10:13

AUBURN — Anders Carlson 40 FG, 3:17

OREGON — Spencer Webb 18 pass from Justin Herbert (Lewis kick), 2:11

SECOND QUARTER

AUBURN — Carlson 25 FG, 4:41

THIRD QUARTER

OREGON — Darrian Felix 6 run (Adam Stack kick), 9:23

AUBURN — Eli Stove 11 pass from Bo Nix (Carlson kick), 4:20

FOURTH QUARTER

AUBURN — Joey Gatewood 1 run (Carlson kick), 9:48

AUBURN — Seth Williams 26 pass from Nix (Carlson kick), 0:09

Attendance -- 60,662


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