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SEC: LSU hangs on to title hopes

By Wire services
Published November 23, 2003

OXFORD, Miss. - LSU stayed in the national title picture and spoiled Mississippi's chance to celebrate a championship.

The Tigers held Eli Manning and the high-scoring Rebels in check for three quarters, then withstood a fourth-quarter rally to earn a 17-14 victory that kept Ole Miss from clinching the SEC West on Saturday.

Matt Mauck threw two touchdowns for LSU, which controls the SEC West race and can clinch its second trip to the conference title game in three years with a victory over Arkansas.

Ole Miss had chances to pull off a second straight fourth-quarter comeback victory.

Jonathan Nichols, who had missed one of 24 field-goal attempts going in, was wide right on a 36-yarder that would have tied the score at 17 with 4:15 left.

It was Nichols' second miss of the game.

The Rebels got one last chance with 2:15 left, but Manning threw three straight incompletions, and on fourth down he was tripped pulling away from center by one of his linemen.

Manning was 16-for-36 for 200 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Ole Miss still can earn its first trip to the SEC title game if LSU loses its season finale and the Rebels beat Mississippi State.

The Tigers were fourth in the latest BCS standings, but with Ohio State's loss they are sure to move up a spot.

Mauck was 16-for-29 for 189 yards, but he threw three interceptions.

Travis Johnson picked off Mauck on LSU's first play and returned it 6 yards for a touchdown to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead.

The Rebels, who lead the SEC with 37 points per game, didn't score again until the fourth quarter.

Mauck found Devery Henderson deep for a 53-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that put LSU up 17-7.

With the way the LSU defense was manhandling the Rebels, it seemed the Tigers were in total control, especially when they had Ole Miss third and 14 in its territory on the next possession.

They weren't.

Manning threw high and deep down the sideline to Bill Flowers, who made an over-the-shoulder grab for 43 yards to the LSU 20.

Manning converted on third down again moments later, beating the blitz with a 10-yard flip for a touchdown to Brandon Jacobs that made it 17-14 with 10:51 left.

After an LSU three-and-out, Manning started moving the Rebels on a drive reminiscent of the one that produced the winning TD against Auburn two weeks earlier.

He hit Flowers for 30 yards to get the Rebels to the LSU 40 and a couple of good runs by Tremaine Turner had them at the 18.

That's where the drive stalled, and the Rebels brought on Nichols, who has been as valuable to the Rebels as any player not named Manning this season.

But like Manning, Nichols was not at his best.

GEORGIA 30, KENTUCKY 10: In his last home game, Billy Bennett finally got a game ball.

Bennett kicked three field goals to become the conference's career scoring leader, and David Greene threw for 289 yards for the Bulldogs.

"It is a special thing, but I can't really say what it means," Bennett said of his record while holding his first game ball tightly. "I'm just glad to get it off my back."

Bennett has 382 career points, and his 81 field goals also are a league record.

Georgia gained at least a share of the East Division title with Florida. Tennessee could create a three-way tie by beating Kentucky next weekend.

Georgia would benefit from that scenario, with the top team in the Bowl Championship Series standings getting a spot in the conference title game. In last week's rankings, the Bulldogs were sixth, a spot ahead of the Volunteers, and the Gators 13th.

Georgia would lose in a two-way tie with Florida because the Gators beat the Bulldogs.

TENNESSEE 48, VANDERBILT 0: Fans and coach Phillip Fulmer showed their love for Casey Clausen, and the senior quarterback paid them back with a memorable performance.

Clausen threw three touchdowns and scored on a sneak, and Mark Jones caught one score and returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown for the Volunteers.

Tennessee's seniors were recognized before the home finale as they ran one by one through the T formed by the band. Clausen came out last and hugged Fulmer as the crowd stood and cheered.

"I said, "Love you, Casey,' and he said, "Love you, Coach. We've got two more,"' Fulmer said, recalling their pregame conversation. "That's Casey Clausen."

ARKANSAS 52, MISS. ST. 6: Senior running back Cedric Cobbs rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns, leading the host Razorbacks over the error-prone Bulldogs.

Quarterback Matt Jones completed 11 of 16 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns and added 73 yards rushing.

Arkansas scored 31 after the first five of Mississippi State's eight turnovers.

[Last modified November 23, 2003, 01:46:45]

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