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Backup Leard jumpstarts Auburn
Tuberville's debut a winner after TD in final minute
Posted: Saturday September 04, 1999 11:16 PM
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Auburn tried to avoid embarrassing itself by buying out of a game against No. 1 Florida State.
It almost backfired.
Instead of opening the season with what surely would have been a loss at Florida State, the Tigers scheduled Division I-AA Appalachian State with the intent to earn an easy victory.
It was anything but easy, though, as Auburn struggled Saturday to a 22-15 win over the pesky Mountaineers.
"I've said since the beginning that this was not going to be a pretty football team," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "We're going to have to win a lot of games like this. The Auburn family will just have to be patient with this young team."
Ben Leard threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Ronney Daniels with 38 seconds to play Saturday to help Auburn beat pesky Appalachian State 22-15 in a season opener.
Leard, who replaced starter Gabe Gross midway through the third quarter, pump-faked once then tossed the ball to Daniels, who was streaking down the left sideline.
Larry Casher sealed the victory by intercepting a pass by Appalachian State's David Reaves in the end zone as time expired. It also made coach Tommy Tuberville's Auburn debut a success.
The Tigers, coming off a nightmarish 3-8 season that was their worst since 1952, were supposed to open the season at No. 1 Florida State. But in an effort to prevent embarrassing themselves, the Tigers paid $500,000 to get out of the game.
The move almost backfired as Auburn struggled all night with Division I-AA Appalachian State.
Appalachian State beat the Tigers up and down the field, outgaining them 323 yards to 288. The Mountaineers also had the ball almost five minutes longer than Auburn did.
"We thought we would beat Auburn when we left Boone (N.C.) Thursday," said Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore. "There was no question in their minds."
The Mountaineers were paid about $300,000 to play Auburn -- almost triple what they make at a home game. But money was never an issue to them -- winning the game was.
"This hurts because we have been working and preparing for this game for months," Reaves said.
Tuberville credited the Mountaineers' effort, and said he expected them to play as well as they did.
"I'll tell you what, they came down here to win the game and I take my hat off to them," Tuberville said. "They brought it to us."
The Mountaineers, who led 15-7 until late in the third quarter, had several chances to extend the lead but failed when Stuart Jones missed two field goals and an extra point.
Auburn struggled throughout the first half. The Tigers had only 54 yards and two first downs through the first two quarters -- and trailed 12-7 at halftime.
Gross, who threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Daniels in the first quarter, couldn't generate any offense after that. He was 5-of-14 for 25 yards and two interceptions when Leard replaced him.
Leard, who started five games last season before losing his job to Gross, immediately ignited the Tigers. He led a nine-play drive that ended in Rusty Williams' 1-yard TD plunge. Leard's 2-point conversion pass to Markeith Cooper tied it 15-15 with 2:23 to play in the third.
"It could have been any one of us and I was just the lucky one to be in the right place at the right time," Leard said. "It feels great, but I know the tides can change."
Leard finished 10-of-19 with 159 yards and a touchdown. Tuberville said he would start next week against Idaho.
"Gabe struggled and we thought it was time to try Leard," Tuberville said. "He kept us in the game and he was able to run the offense."
Both teams had a chance to take the lead on their next possessions, but Jones missed a 27-yard field goal and Auburn's Robert Bironas failed on a 31-yard attempt.Leard finished 10-of-19 with 159 yards and a touchdown. Reaves was 22-for-36 with 196 yards and a touchdown, with an interception.
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