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Tigers pounce on championship

Split polls mean LSU will share national title with Southern Cal

Posted: Monday, January 05, 2004

NEW ORLEANS There's no question who's No. 1 to the thousands of purple-and-gold partyers in tiger stripes who packed the Superdome and Bourbon Street.

That LSU will have to share the national title hardly matters.

By holding off Heisman Trophy winner Jason White and Oklahoma 21-14 at the very end Sunday night in the Sugar Bowl, these Tigers certainly proved they belonged in the Bowl Championship Series finale.

''I'm just happy that we could make this state proud,'' LSU coach Nick Saban said. ''We got tired at the end of the game, but we played from the heart.''

Now, too bad for college football fans everywhere that there's not one more game left for No. 2 LSU against top-ranked Southern California.

The Tigers automatically received the USA Today/ESPN coaches' crown for winning this game over the third-ranked Sooners. But a split championship was the result because top-ranked USC won The Associated Press title with a 28-14 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Freshman Justin Vincent ran loose for 117 yards and was selected the Sugar Bowl's most outstanding player, defensive end Marcus Spears scored on an interception return and coach Nick Saban's team never trailed in bringing LSU its first crown since 1958.

And it was a rewarding win for Saban. He makes $1.5 million, but a clause in his contract said that if he won this game, he was guaranteed $1 more than the highest-paid college coach Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, at $2.3 million.

All-America Chad Lavalais and his LSU teammates shut down the nation's top-scoring team for most of the game, extending the jinx that haunted previous Heisman winners such as Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch and Gino Torretta.

''They did what they had to do to win,'' Saban said. ''We played with our identity.''

White found his touch in the fourth quarter and led the Sooners down the field in the final minutes. But on fourth down at the LSU 12, White's pass was tipped and it trickled off the hands of star receiver Mark Clayton in the end zone.

Other Sooners argued, yet Clayton picked up the ball and shook it, knowing his chance had slipped away.

''I just tried to give somebody a chance to catch it,'' White said. ''He almost caught it.''

Oklahoma got the ball back once more, and White was sacked on its final play as the LSU band blared yet another version of ''Hold that Tiger!''

''Too many penalties and the early (bad) tackling is what killed us,'' Stoops said.

Up to 1 million people were expected to swarm the French Quarter LSU's campus in Baton Rouge is only 70 miles away and the Tigers' victory brought in Mardi Gras about two months early for those fans.

Inside, a record crowd of 79,342 that slowly made its way through heavy security before the game went crazy cheering for the Tigers (13-1), who finished last season not even ranked in the AP Top 25.

The loss was a bitter one for the Sooners (12-2). They had seethed for nearly a month after their perfect season was wrecked in a humbling 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.

Kejuan Jones scored on two short runs for the Sooners, but their hope for an eighth national title was ruined by untimely penalties and mistakes. Stoops, whose team won the unified championship in 2000, spent as much of the game shouting at the officials as his own team.

Stoops' brother, Mike, also was on the sidelines. The co-defensive coordinator for the Sooners, he spent one more game with the team before taking over full-time as Arizona's new coach.

Vincent gave a glimpse of what was to come on the very first play from scrimmage. The MVP of the Southeastern Conference championship game juked right, cut back left and galloped up the middle for 64 yards.

LSU fumbled away its chance to score right away when quarterback Matt Mauck bobbled a snap on first-and-goal at the 1 and All-America defensive back Derrick Strait recovered. Mauck is known for having better hands than that he was a catcher in the Chicago Cubs' minor league system.

White gave the ball right back, though. On the Sooners' second play, he made an ill-advised throw that Corey Webster intercepted at midfield. And this time, LSU quickly took advantage.

Shifty receiver Skyler Green went in motion, took a handoff from Mauck and danced around the right side untouched for a 24-yard touchdown.

White finished 13-for-37 for 102 yards with two interceptions.

The top-scoring team in the country, Oklahoma was blanked in the opening quarter for the first time this season. Then again, the Tigers were accustomed to such performances.

LSU limited opponents to only 10.8 points, the best scoring defense in the nation. Anchoring the middle, as always, was Lavalais, who spent one year working as a prison guard before enrolling in school.

Oklahoma broke through midway in the second quarter, literally, when two Sooners burst through LSU's punt-block formation and Brandon Shelby smothered Donnie Jones' kick. They took over at the 2, and Jones' 1-yard burst tied it.

LSU took the ensuing kickoff and zoomed down the field 80 yards behind Mauck and Vincent. Mauck completed passes to four receivers and Vincent carried three times for 43 yards, capped by a snaking, 18-yard TD run for a 14-7 lead.

Vincent held up both index fingers in celebration, and the LSU crowd let loose later as the school's glittery Golden Girls and the 325-member Golden Band from Tigerland put on a spirited show at halftime.

When the third quarter began, the fans got even wilder because of Spears.

On the first play, he sacked White. On the next, Spears dropped back into coverage in the right flat and seemed to surprise White, making an easy interception.

The big defensive end barreled toward the end zone and no one was going to stop him, scoring standing up when White bounced off him at the goal line.

LSUGreen 24 run (Gaudet kick), 11:38.

Second Quarter

OklaK.Jones 1 run (DiCarlo kick), 7:31.

LSUVincent 18 run (Gaudet kick), 4:21.

Third Quarter

LSUSpears 20 interception return (Gaudet kick), 14:13.

Fourth Quarter

OklaK.Jones 1 run (DiCarlo kick), 11:01.

A79,342.

Okla LSU

First downs 12 13

Total NetYards 154 312

Rushes-yards 33-52 40-159

Passing 102 153

Punt Returns 5-36 3-26

Kickoff Returns 2-24 0-0

Interceptions Ret. 2-62 2-38

Comp-Att-Int 13-37-2 14-24-2

Sacked-Yards Lost 5-12 5-46

Punts 8-45.9 8-34.0

Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-1

Penalties-Yards 11-70 8-65

Time ofPossession 28:41 31:19

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHINGOklahoma, K.Jones 20-59, Ma.Clayton 4-38, Works 1-2, team 1-(minus 1), White 7-(minus 46). LSU, Vincent 16-117, Mauck 14-27, Green 3-22, Broussard 2-6, Addai 2-(minus 1), team 3-(minus 12).

PASSINGOklahoma, White 13-37-2-102. LSU, Mauck 13-22-2-124, Bech 1-1-0-29, Mi.Clayton 0-1-0-0.

RECEIVINGOklahoma, Ma.Clayton 4-32, Wilson 3-31, Runnels 2-19, K.Jones 2-6, Bradley 1-9, B.Jones 1-5. LSU, Mi.Clayton 4-38, Da.Jones 3-54, Henderson 2-24, Green 2-23, Addai 2-12, Edwards 1-2.

MISSED FIELD GOALSNone.



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