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Auburn Drops Opener to No. 18 Southern Cal

Monday, September 2, 2002
AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Carson Palmer threw for 302 yards and scored on a sneak with 1:26 remaining as the No. 18 Southern California Trojans opened their season Monday night with a 24-17 victory over Auburn.

Palmer bulled into the end zone from 1 yard out for the go-ahead score in the game that was only the second football meeting between the schools.

A fifth-year senior still trying to live up to the high expectations that greeted him at USC, Palmer completed 23-of-32, including a 14-yard touchdown pass, against the Tigers, who also were beginning their season.

Palmer was intercepted twice, both times in the first half.

Tailback Malaefou MacKenzie, who often seemed overlooked by the Auburn defense, had six catches for 117 yards and also carried 11 times for 31 yards.

Auburn's Carnell Williams ran for 94 yards on 21 carries and a TD, but the Trojans' defense held him to minus-2 yards on seven carries in the second half.

Daniel Cobb went 10-of-21 for 132 yards for the Tigers, with one interception.

After an Auburn drive stalled at the USC 22, the Tigers' Damon Duval made a 39-yard field goal nine seconds into the fourth quarter to tie it 17-17.

David Davis' 37-yard field goal midway through third quarter had put the Trojans up by 3 points.

Auburn linebacker Karlos Dansby had an interception in the first half and recovered a fumble by Kareem Kelly at the Tigers' 12-yard line to turn away one USC threat in the fourth quarter.

The Tigers got some help from a Trojans mistake, and some luck at the goal line to even it 14-all just before halftime.

Auburn punted from on fourth-and-14 from its own 15, but USC was called for having 12 men on the field, giving the Tigers a first down at the 30.

Cobb marched the Tigers down the field, then tried to score himself on a scramble with time running out in the half, but he fumbled at the USC 1. The ball popped into the air and into the arms of Auburn tailback Ronnie Brown, who pushed it over the line for the score with 11 seconds left.

The Tigers went 91 yards in 15 plays to that tying TD, using 6:43.

Sultan McCullough had given the Trojans a 14-7 lead earlier in the quarter when he scored on a 3-yard run to cap a drive that started when Omar Nazel intercepted a Cobb pass at the USC 25 to end an Auburn threat. Nazel returned the interception 15 yards.

Williams tied the game 7-7 with his 23-yard scoring run one play after Dansby made a lunging interception of Palmer's pass in the flat.

Williams started off left tackle, sliced back up the seam, shook off a tackle by Marcell Almond and then stiff-armed Omar Nazel near the goal line.

The Trojans had capitalized on a Cobb fumble for a touchdown moments earlier. Mike Pollard recovered for USC at the Auburn 41, and Palmer hooked up with Kelly on a 14-yard scoring pass shortly later.

The Trojans were coming off a 6-6 season. Auburn was 7-5 last year, losing four of their last five.

In the previous meeting between the schools, the Tigers beat the Trojans 16-7 in the 1987 Citrus Bowl.

The game was only Auburn's second in California. The Tigers were beaten 12-0 at Santa Clara in 1936.