That effort was enough to give Auburn a chance to win at Florida last Saturday as the Tigers overcame a sluggish first quarter and rallied from a 23-7 fourth quarter deficit to tie the game at 23-23 and have a chip shot field goal to win the game in the final minute of regulation. Damon Duval's low kick from 23 yards out was blocked, setting up overtime, and Florida took advantage of the reprieve to win 30-23.
McNeil says the Auburn defense got better as the game progressed. "You know, Florida came out in a no-huddle and just caught us off guard a little bit. But, we were able to withstand it. That first stand got us back in the ball game."
Normally able to play only about half the snaps because he has still not fully recovered from offseason knee surgery, McNeil stayed in the game for 58 plays and waved off the subs when his position coach Don Dunn tried to give the junior a break. "DeMarco battled out there and so did all of our guys on the defensive line," Dunn says. "We have a great bunch of guys up there who really want to play the game and really want to be successful. It is a pleasure to coach these guys."
McNeil says he is sore this week, but came through the battle vs. the Gators in relatively good shape. "With the game on the line, and we were playing so well, I didn't want to come out," McNeil explains.
This week McNeil and the Tigers are facing perhaps their toughest test of the year when LSU comes to Jordan-Hare Stadium for an 11:30 a.m. kickoff in a game moved to a morning start for Jefferson-Pilot television coverage. Auburn, a 2-2 in the SEC, can not afford another conference loss and stay in the hunt for the SEC West title. LSU is the only SEC West team with no losses. The Bayou Bengals are 3-0 in the conference. If Auburn had made the easy field goal at Florida Field last Saturday night, the Tigers would be playing for a share of first place this week.
"It is pretty hard," says McNeil, noting the way the Tigers lost in Gainesville. "But, that is something that we have to do and there isn't anything we can do about it now."
DeMarco McNeil (92) waits for QB Ingle Martin to line up the Gators in Saturday night's game.
McNeil says the Tigers have turned their attention forward towards a physical LSU team that is having a great defensive season. "They are going to come right at you," he says. "We want them to come at us and try our manhood. I think we will play pretty good between the tackles. So were just waiting on LSU. I am quite sure we are going to get their best effort."
Last year, Auburn's loss at Baton Rouge kept McNeil and his teammates from making a second straight trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Auburn lost 27-14 in a game that was postponed to Dec. 1 after originally being scheduled in September. However, the fallout from the 911 terrorism attacks postponed or cancelled college football games planned that week so the Auburn vs. LSU game was pushed back to the end of the regular season.
Auburn players who made the trip to Baton Rouge remember the scene well as drunken, often out-of-control LSU fans taunted the visitors and their fans. Tiger Walk director Tommy Williams was violently hit in the back of the head by an LSU fan and knocked to the ground in the mob scene that greeted the Auburn football team. Williams, who died several months later after losing a fight to brain cancer, said he couldn't understand what would possess somebody to want to attack him.
There were countless other incidents that night around Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge ranging from minor vandalism of vehicles belonging to Auburn fans to setting a passenger van on fire.
"One thing that sticks out in my mind was when all of the fans just rushed Coach Tuberville," McNeil says. "We were on the bus. That is something that hit me as something that I really didn't like."
McNeil says Saturday's contest is a revenge game for what happened on and off the field. At 2-2 in the league, Auburn can't afford another league loss to reach its goal of winning the West and the league titles. "Last year, they won the game to get to the SEC championship," McNeil adds. "To get that, we have to win this game, most definitely."