NEW ORLEANS, JAN. 1 -- Auburn Coach Pat Dye decided discretion and a field goal were the better part of valor and victory.
Thirteen yards from a possible touchdown and triumph, Dye decided life would be easier with a 16-16 tie against Syracuse in today's 54th annual Sugar Bowl. So with four seconds remaining, he sent in a kicker named Win to try to tie the game. And when Win Lyle connected on a 30-yard field goal, it was the first tie in the history of the Sugar Bowl. And, while Auburn treated it with mild happiness, fourth-ranked Syracuse was disturbed.
After a very brief handshake with Dye at midfield, Syracuse Coach Dick MacPherson responded to a television interviewer's question if he would have gone for the tie in Dye's position: "Absolutely not. I would not have gone for the tie, but . . . I'm not in his shoes."
After talking to his team, which finished 11-0-1, MacPherson walked into the interview room, started talking about several things his team did wrong and said, "Those are the big reasons why we lost." He later corrected himself in regards to the outcome, but the sentiment was still valid.
MacPherson was flushed with anger and frustration, but he would not come out and say he was furious at Dye. But he did say, "We were here to win."
Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson was the game's most valuable player, but he said the result left a "nasty taste" in his mouth.
"They tied us," he said. "We didn't tie them."
Tim Vesling, who had given the Orangemen a 16-13 lead with 2:03 left in the game with his third field goal, said, "It hurts. But we've been instructed not to say anything negative, so I won't."
Syracuse had held slim hopes of being considered for the national championship, but the tie ended those dreams.
"I said we were shooting for 12-0 and that if we didn't get it, we would step back and see who is and give them their due," MacPherson said.
Dye's sixth-ranked Tigers were 9-1-1 coming into the game and had no chance for a national championship, but he defended the decision.
"You win some, you lose some and you are going to tie some," Dye said. "Our team played with as much character and class as I ever saw. It boiled down to if I was going to throw it one more time. My decision was not to get beat."
When Lyle came on the field, there were murmurs from the crowd of 75,495 in the Louisiana Superdome. When Lyle made the kick, some of the Auburn faithful cheered. Others continued murmuring. And when the final gun sounded, the teams left the field in a chorus of boos.
Auburn quarterback Jeff Burger had an excellent day and completed 11 passes in the Tigers' final drive, which started at the Auburn 25 with 1:59 left.
"We didn't get beat, they didn't get beat," Burger said of Dye's decision. "Everyone was happy we didn't get beat. I am happy we won nine games this year. Everybody laid their guts on the line. I don't know if we would have gotten into the end zone on the last play. Every quarterback wants to go for the end zone."
But being a good soldier, Burger added, "However, I agree with anything the coaches say."
Dye had hoped for a close game and he got one.
Burger, who completed 24 of 33 passes for 171 yards with one touchdown and one interception, got the Tigers on the board first with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Lawyer Tillman. The score was set up by a 52-yard play in which Burger threw a lateral pass to Duke Donaldson who threw a perfect pass to Tillman.
After David Holmes intercepted Burger, Syracuse tied the score when McPherson hit Deval Glover on a 12-yard touchdown pass with six seconds gone in the second quarter.
After that, it was all field goals.
Lyle hit from 40 yards with 47 seconds left in the half to send the Tigers to the locker room with a 10-7 lead.
The Orangemen will not look fondly on their first drive of the second half. After churning downfield on the ground -- they totaled 174 yards rushing and held the Tigers to 41 -- they had third and three at the Auburn 4-yard line. Robert Drummond gained enough for the first down, but the play was nullified when officials said the 25-second clock had expired. McPherson said he saw one second left when the ball was snapped. Then McPherson threw to Glover on the same route that had worked before. However, an official ruled the ball hit the ground before Glover caught it.
"I definitely caught it," Glover said, and the replays seemed to agree. Vesling, who had been short on 46-yard attempt in the second quarter, then tied the game, 10-10, with a 27-yarder.
Syracuse got the ball at its 24 with 6:47 left and the score tied, 13-13. The Orangemen moved into Auburn territory, but on third and one from the 22, Drummond was stopped six inches short of a first down.
"No way," MacPherson said when asked why he had Vesling kick a 38-yard field goal for a 16-13 lead instead of going for the first down. "Tim Vesling's a good kicker and you have to dance with the people that brung you."
The Tigers, who were now trailing for the first time, started at their 25. Burger threw to Tillman, who made a one-handed grab on a pass that was behind him for a first down at the 36. After three more completions pushed the ball to the 48, Auburn called time with 57 seconds left.
Burger then hit Scott Bolton for 18 yards to the Syracuse 34. After a completion to Stacy Danley, Auburn faced fourth and five at the 30 with 28 seconds left in the game. Burger came through, hitting Danley with an over-the-shoulder pass for an eight-yard gain. Tillman, who finished with six catches for 125 yards, caught his last one for seven yards to the 15. With 13 seconds left, Burger hit Danley, but the redshirt freshman couldn't get out of bounds after his two-yard catch. Burger yelled for and got a timeout with four seconds left.
Then it came down to a decision.
"Pat Dye did what he thought was best for Auburn," said Syracuse nose guard Ted Gregory, who didn't play in the second half because he reinjured his knee. "I guess we'll just have to live with it."
Syracuse 0 7 3 6 16 Auburn 7 3 0 6 16 First Quarter
A -- Tillman 17 pass from Burger (Lyle kick), 9:13 Second Quarter
S -- Glover 12 pass from McPherson (Vesling kick), :06
A -- Lyle 40 FG, 14:13 Third Quarter
S -- Vesling 27 FG, 9:26 Fourth Quarter
A -- Lyle 41 FG, 1:33
S -- Vesling 31 FG, 6:47
S -- Vesling 38 FG, 12:56
A -- Lyle 30 FG, 14:59
A -- 75,495.
Syracuse Auburn First downs 23 14 Rushes-yards 55-174 22-41 Passing 140 229 Return Yards 38 0 Comp-Att-Int 11-21-0 25-34-1 Punts 5-36 6-45 Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-0 Penalties-Yards 2-20 5-43 Time of
RUSHING -- Syracuse, Drummond 17-82, Johnston 14-50, McPherson 20-31, Owens 4-11. Auburn, Danley 13-42, War
PASSING -- Syracuse, McPherson 11-21-0-140. Auburn, Burger 24-33-1-171, Donaldson 1-1-0-58.
RECEIVING -- Syracuse, Glover 6-91, Kane 2-30, Kelly 1-8, Johnston 1-6, Drummond 1-5. Auburn, Danley 7-34,