NEW ORLEANS (Ticker) -- No. 3 Auburn came into the Sugar Bowl trying to lay claim to a piece of the national title. It ended the game struggling to claim a victory.
The Tigers built a double-digit lead, then hung on late for a 16-13 victory over No. 9 Virginia Tech.
The win wrapped up a 13-0 season for Auburn, the first in school history. But the record campaign will not end with a national championship thanks to a game effort from the Hokies. Top-ranked Southern California and No. 2 Oklahoma, both unbeaten, will battle for the title in the Orange Bowl on Tuesday.
"I'm not going to sit here and say we're No. 2 behind anybody," said Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell, who passed for 189 yards and won the Miller-Digby Memorial Trophy as the game's most outstanding player. "I feel like we're No. 1, and for anyone to call us No. 2, then we have to play it on the field. I feel like we're deserving to be co-national champions -- same situation as it was last year. We should have the same opportunity."
The Tigers drove inside the Hokies 10-yard line on three different occasions in the first half but came away with field goals each time for a 9-0 halftime lead.
Auburn opened the second half with a touchdown drive capped by a five-yard pass from Campbell to Devin Aromashodu for a 16-0 lead. The Tigers seemed to be in control at that point, but the Hokies rallied in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't come to impress the voters," Auburn cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "We were just down here to win. We're 13-0. They can't take that away from us. No doubt, we're ready for the winner of the Oklahoma-Southern Cal game."
Bryan Randall fired a pair of scoring strikes to Josh Morgan to get Virginia Tech (10-3) back in the game. The second was an 80-yard play with just over two minutes remaining, but Auburn recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
While Auburn was unable to cap its first-half drives with TDs, Virginia Tech also made its share of costly mistakes.
Trailing 6-0 in the second quarter, Virginia Tech failed on 4th-and-goal from the 1 when fullback Jesse Allen dropped what would have been a go-ahead TD. Early in the fourth period, Brandon Pace missed a 23-yard field goal wide left after going 12-of-12 inside 33 yards during the regular season.
"Jesse was open for about a split second, and I tried to get it to him," Randall said. "I kind of put it on his back shoulder, and that made it tough for him to catch. And I'm not sure the (defender) didn't tip the ball."
"I thought it was the right call," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "Bryan got the ball to (Allen). Just had to make the catch. You make a catch like that, you're up 7-6."
But after the fourth-down incompletion, the Tigers moved 92 yards to set up John Vaughn's 24-yard field goal and a 9-0 Auburn lead. Vaughn tied the Sugar Bowl record for field goals in a half.
Campbell completed 11-for-16 passes and was intercepted once and sacked twice. His scoring pass to Aromashodu was Campbell's 20th of the season, tying him with 1971 Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan for the Auburn season record.
Randall was 21-of-38 for 299 yards with two interceptions. He passed for 157 yards in the final quarter and became Virginia Tech's career leader in touchdown passes with 48.
The Hokies, thanks to 176 fourth-quarter yards, outgained Auburn 375 yards to 299. They limited the Tigers to 110 yards rushing, including 61 in 19 carries by standout Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.
"We had opportunities to win this game," said Randall, who led the Hokies to the championship in their Atlantic Coast Conference debut. "Right now, I'm definitely disappointed."
Virginia Tech opened its season in August with a 24-13 loss to Southern California at Landover, Maryland -- the Hokies led that game 10-7 at halftime -- and some Hokies left the Sugar Bowl as impressed with Auburn as they were with the Trojans.
"It would be too close to call," Morgan said when asked who would win a USC-Auburn matchup. "USC has an explosive offense. Auburn has a great defense. Auburn is definitely on a level with USC and Oklahoma."
"I think it's very close between (Auburn) and Southern Cal," Beamer said. "Probably Oklahoma's in the middle of that, too."
Should Auburn finish second in the rankings, it would be the Tigers' best in the final major polls since winning the Associated Press national championship in 1957. Auburn ranked third in both of the 1983 final polls.
"The winner of the game tomorrow night automatically gets the (Bowl Championship Series) trophy and the coaches poll," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "But if anybody out there's got an AP vote, we'd appreciate it."