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"If we could have scored there," said Williams later, "they probably would have given up."
But Tech didn't. With 6:58 to play in the fourth, the Hokies scored on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Randall to Josh Morgan. Then, with just more than two minutes left in the game, Randall hooked up with Morgan again on an 80-yard scoring bomb. Auburn recovered the ensuing onside-kick attempt and was able to run out the clock, but the performance wasn't the four-quarter masterpiece the Tigers had hoped for. Auburn had dominated the game for 3� quarters, yet its margin of victory was only three points.
The closeness of the final score didn't dampen the postgame celebration, as the players joyously gathered in the northwest corner of the stadium and drank in their triumph. They slapped high fives with the fans, they waved Auburn flags, they led the band in the school fight song, and then they stormed the ESPN Gameday set to plead their case for a share of the national title.
In the middle of the scrum was Campbell. After he finished his postgame interviews, he finally emerged from the Auburn locker room. It was nearing midnight in the Big Easy, and Campbell took a slow stroll back across the length of the Superdome field, savoring his last moments as a college player. Campbell will surely be remembered as one of the best quarterbacks to ever pass through The Plains. His career record as a starter stands at 31-9 (including wins in his last 15 starts), and his career completion percentage of 64.5 is the third best in SEC history. Against the Hokies his passing statistics were typically efficient: 11 of 16, 189 yards, one touchdown, one interception, one Most Outstanding Player trophy.
"We did everything we were asked to do," said Campbell. "I'd love to play one more game, but at least we were able to make a statement here tonight."
After walking across the field, Campbell signed a few more autographs, then boarded the only team bus that was still waiting. As the bus motored away from the stadium and into the warm New Orleans night, Campbell sat by a window, so it was obvious to anyone looking on that he was doing the one thing that every Auburn fan in America will be doing years from now whenever they recall the 2004 Tigers.
He was smiling.
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MONDAY, JANUARY 3, 2005