AUBURN, Ala. — The pile formed at the LSU 30. Somewhere at the bottom lay Cole Tracy, the graduate transfer who had just kicked the game-winning 42-yard field goal to beat No. 7 Auburn 22-21 Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The rest of the Tigers lifted their teammate — who only months before had transferred from Division II Assumption College (Massachusetts) — and carried him toward the visiting locker room, before Tracy promptly planted an LSU flag near Auburn's iconic hedges.
LSU had made its mark.
The Tigers barely snuck into the AP preseason top 25, but now, three weeks in, No. 12 LSU has already beaten two top-10 teams — something the program hadn't done since finishing as national runner-up in 2011.
Even after LSU's dominant 33-17 season-opening win over then-No. 8 Miami and its plodding 31-0 win over Southeastern, coach Ed Orgeron said in the week leading up to Auburn that he still needed to see his team "win the big game."
So, was this it?
"I'd qualify it as a big game for now," said Orgeron, who owns a 3-2 record against top-10 opponents at LSU.
The game couldn't have been bigger for LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the Ohio State graduate transfer who completed a crucial fourth-down pass to Stephen Sullivan to keep the game-winning drive alive.
Burrow was only 2-of-8 passing for 17 yards on the drive, which began at the LSU 24, but Auburn committed two pass-interference penalties that eventually set LSU at the Auburn 24.
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When Burrow handed the game off to the special teams with two seconds left on the clock, he sat on the bench and put his head in his hands.
"I didn't want to watch it," said Burrow, who finished the game 15-of-34 passing for 249 yards and a touchdown.
Tracy jogged in on fourth down. Either way, it would be the final play of the game.
"You could feel it," Tracy said. "You could tell it was leading this way. That it could come down to a kick."
Six minutes into the game, it seemed LSU was going to roll Auburn, which entered the game a multi-score favorite.
LSU strong safety Grant Delpit intercepted Auburn's Jarrett Stidham on the second play of the game, and nine plays later, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire plowed up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat formation to set LSU ahead 7-0.
Auburn went three-and-out, and LSU immediately took its shot.
Burrow dropped back in play action and saw Justin Jefferson wide open down the left side of the field.
Burrow's throw drifted toward the sideline, and Jefferson saved the play, making the catch by dragging his left foot in bounds for a 31-yard gain to the Auburn 38.
But LSU eventually punted on the drive, and self-inflicted mistakes helped Auburn back in the game.
LSU finished with nine penalties for 90 yards, and several either ended promising drives or aided Auburn toward scoring opportunities.
Right tackle Austin Deculus was penalized for a false start late in the first quarter, which backed LSU into a third-and-7 that it did not convert. Two plays later, Tracy missed a 53-yard field goal wide right.
Later in the half, with LSU leading 10-7, Buck linebacker Andre Anthony was called for roughing Stidham, who had just thrown an incomplete pass on third down. The penalty extended the drive, and Auburn scored its second touchdown in as many possessions to go up 14-10 with 1:31 left in the first half.
By then the LSU offense had been stunted by Auburn’s defense, which continued to force LSU into third-down situations.
LSU began the game 5 of 7 (71 percent) on third down, but it went 1 of 4 in the second quarter and punted on consecutive drives going into halftime.
Auburn had stolen the momentum, and on the first drive of the second half, LSU was desperate to steal it back.
Facing a fourth-and-3 at the Auburn 45, punter Zach Von Rosenberg attempted a jump pass that fell a few yards out of reach from tight end Foster Moreau.
Auburn followed with a seven-play, 55-yard touchdown drive that distanced the lead to 21-10 with 10:38 left in the third quarter.
"That was a big turning point in the ball game," Orgeron said. "But we kept on fighting."
Auburn was held to 90 yards in its final five drives of the game, which included an interception by LSU All-American corner Greedy Williams and a missed 52-yarder by Auburn place-kicker Anders Carlson.
Tracy made a 27-yarder to pull within 21-13 with 3:58 left in the third. Then in the fourth, Burrow fit a downfield pass just out of reach of the stretching fingers of Auburn linebacker Deshaun Davis and into the waiting arms of Derrick Dillon, who raced for a 71-yard touchdown to make the score 21-19 with 8:18 left.
Burrow's pass on a two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete.
Burrow said he walked down the sideline and shouted at the defense: "You keep getting stops! We're going to win this game!"
LSU forced another three-and-out.
With 5:38 left in the game, all that lay ahead were 76 yards and a team LSU had not beaten on the road since 2012.
A pass interference call moved LSU to its 38. Burrow arced a cross-field third-down pass to Dee Anderson on the right sideline at the 49. Then, Burrow fit a fourth-down throw to Sullivan in the middle of the field at the Auburn 39.
Burrow said he was "upset" with himself at halftime because of his first-half misses; but at this point, he was completing passes with newfound accuracy.
"I believe in Joe," Jefferson would say afterward.
Four plays later, Tracy kicked the game-winner right down the middle, turned and sprinted toward the opposite end zone as the team pursued its kicker into a dog pile.
"We knew it was going to take all we had," Orgeron said. "And it did."