Cody Parkey made a career-high four field goals and Tre Mason rushed for a career-high 106 yards for Auburn but No. 14 Clemson edged past the Tigers for a hard-fought 26-19 victory in the Chick-fil-A Game in the season opener for both teams at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
Emory Blake caught four passes for a career-high 109 yards and a touchdown while sophomore Kiehl Frazier threw for 194 yards and one touchdown on 11-of-27 passing and one interception in his first career start for Auburn.
"It was hard fought on both sides," said Auburn head coach Gene Chizik. "I am very proud of our guys. We had our chances to win the game, and we didn't get it done. It is that simple. You can point to several factors in there. Defensively, we couldn't get off the field. They are a very explosive offense and have very quick tempo. They have some very good players, and their quarterback is extremely talented.
The game was tied at 16 entering the final quarter after Parkey tied with a field goal with 55 seconds left in the third. Daren Bates intercepted Tajh Boyd and returned it 12 yards to the Clemson 35 on the first play of the fourth quarter. It set up Parkey making his career-high fourth field goal of the game, a 36-yarder to give Auburn a 19-16 lead with 12:50 remaining.
Clemson then scored the final 10 points of the game to outlast Auburn.
"In the critical part of the game, I felt they made the right plays and we didn't," said Chizik. "Overall, our guys were fighting down to the end which is exactly what we thought they would do. We will learn a lot. I thought we played very hard down to the end of the game and Clemson made the plays when we were not able to, and I think it is that simple."
In the back-and-forth game, Clemson came right back on a 10-play, 75-yard drive as Boyd threw a 4-yard fade route to DeAndre Hopkins, who had a Clemson single-game record 13 receptions for 119 yards, in the back right corner of the end zone as Clemson took the lead for good, 23-19, with 9:17 left.
Clemson stopped Auburn on the next possession and drove 79 yards on the strength of Andre Ellington's 45-yard run to the Auburn 8. Auburn's defense stopped Clemson at the 1-yard line for the second time to give itself another shot. Chandler Catanazaro made his fourth field goal of the game for a 26-19 Clemson lead with 1:24 left.
Ellington rushed for 231 yards on 26 carries while Boyd threw for 208 yards and a touchdown on 24-of-34 passing.
Clemson opened the game's scoring as Catanazaro made a 39-yard field goal with 5:22 left in the first quarter. Auburn's defense held after Clemson drove 83 yards down to the Auburn 1-yard line.
Auburn struck back quickly four plays later as Frazier threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Blake to put Auburn ahead 7-3 with 3:38 remaining in the opening quarter.
Catanazaro made a 40-yard field goal to bring Clemson to within 7-6 after the Tigers recovered a Tre Mason fumble just past midfield. Auburn had driven from its own 1-yard line to the Clemson 48 before Auburn's impressive drive ended with the turnover on the first possession of the second quarter.
Ellington's 68-yard run to the Auburn 15 followed by a Ryan White personal foul penalty set up Clemson's first touchdown on a 7-yard run by Roderick McDowell for a 13-7 Clemson lead with 7:26 left in the half. Clemson's drive covered 85 yards in only three plays.
Parkey's 37-yard field goal closed Auburn to within 13-10 with 1:24 before the half. On the drive, Frazier's 38-yard completion to Philip Lutzenkirchen to the Clemson 13 was the big play. However, Frazier nearly completed what would have been a perfect 15-yard touch pass to a wide-open Trovon Reed in the back of the end zone, but Reed came down with both feet out of bounds.
Auburn's defense held Clemson at the end of the half as Catanazaro missed a 55-yard field goal wide left with Clemson leading 13-10.
A big third down conversion on a 24-yard Frazier to Blake completion to the Clemson 35 set up a career-long 46-yard Parkey field goal as Auburn tied it at 13 with 8:38 left in the third. Clemson answered with Catanazaro's third field goal of the night, a 37-yarder, to regain the lead, 16-13, four minutes later.
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game record crowd of 75,211 saw Auburn gain 374 yards on 64 plays while Clemson had 528 yards total offense on 87 plays. Auburn rushed for 180 yards to Clemson's 320, 231 of it from Ellington.
Auburn opens SEC play next Saturday at Mississippi State at 11 am CT on ESPN.