AUBURN, Ala. – The fifth season T’Sharvan Bell has spent in Auburn didn’t go according to plan.
But there was one of those rare moments of happiness this 2012 season when Bell ran onto the Jordan-Hare Stadium field for the final time Saturday, embracing his mother and brothers.
Three hours later, Bell’s family sat proudly in her longtime seat behind the Tigers’ sideline, as safety Trent Fisher’s 60-yard interception return polished off Auburn’s 51-7 victory over Alabama A&M. Bertia Williams looked up at the videoboard, beaming as her son leapt onto Fisher as part of the celebration.
“He’s come a long way,” Williams said, wearing her son’s No. 22 jersey. “There’s been some tough times, but he’s very strong and very determined. He’s always a leader. That’s what he does best.”
The second senior honored behind linebacker Daren Bates, Bell led 10 other seniors onto the field during pregame ceremonies. Bell, who fought off a litany of injuries during his career, said this week he’d try to block out the emotion until gametime.
Then, it’d be time to soak it in.
“It was bittersweet. I had a lot of emotions. Seeing my mom and brothers out there on the field, it was heart-warming for me,” Bell said. “Everybody’s like, man, you’re going to cry, you’re going to cry. I said, no, I’m gonna hold it together.”
Bell didn’t cry, joking that he saw injured tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen shed a tear or two. Bell hasn’t had many chances to display that luminous smile, but took the opportunity after the game.
“I’m definitely going to miss being out there at Jordan-Hare,” Bell said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, and I can’t tell you when it’s going to sink in, but I’m definitely going to miss it.”
Of all the contributing seniors, the brightest effort Saturday went to tailback Onterio McCalebb, who sprinted to 104 yards and two touchdowns on a team-high 15 carries. He’s only the second player in SEC history to top 2,000 yards rushing, 1,000 kickoff return yards and 500 yards receiving.
“It’s a blessing to go out there and do that because when I got out of high school, a lot of people said, ‘you’re too small to do this or that in the SEC’ and I basically have to go out there and prove them wrong,” McCalebb said.
“It really didn’t hit me until Tiger Walk. It really hit me hard, because I am going to miss playing here.”
No comment: University President Jay Gogue said Friday after a board of trustees meeting he would take the final two games to assess the job security of athletic director Jay Jacobs and head coach Gene Chizik.
Asked about the subject Saturday, Chizik, who has consistently deferred job status inquiries, said, “I’ve already addressed all of that stuff.”
End of the Rhodes: Immediately following Chizik’s postgame press conference, Auburn spokeswoman Shelly Poe received word that senior middle linebacker Ashton Richardson was not selected among the two Rhodes Scholarship recipients out of 12 district finalists Saturday.
Richardson, an animal sciences major and aspiring equine veterinarian who plans to attend graduate school somewhere, missed Saturday’s game while interviewing in Birmingham.
Good times: Auburn’s 512 total yards were the most since it gained 519, in the 2010 BCS Championship Game against Oregon.
Sophomore Tre Mason’s 165 rushing yards in the first half counts as the third-highest total in school history. The only man with more first-half success (twice)? Bo Jackson.
The Tigers hauled in just their second interception of the year Saturday, and the first was by Bates back in the season opener against Clemson. The linebackers group had constantly reminded the defensive backs of this fact.
“They’ve been giving us a hard time about the DBs not getting any,” Fisher said, “so it was good to finally get one today.”
Fisher said he could barely remember the last time he scored a touchdown, and he’d never enjoyed a pick-six at any level.
Oddly enough, the Tigers are now 2-0 when Fisher starts at safety and 1-8 when he doesn’t. Demetruce McNeal, Auburn’s leading tackler entering Saturday, was benched early and only played special teams and garbage-time defense.
“When you look at production, that doesn’t always tell the story,” Chizik said. “It’s because there’s a lot of other things involved than just tackling. That’s why we made the move.”
Ryan Smith also saw heavy playing time alongside Jermaine Whitehead Saturday.
Lineup shift: Other new starters included senior wide receiver DeAngelo Benton, tight end C.J. Uzomah, freshman left guard Christian Westerman and safety Ryan White.
Benton’s career-long 51-yard grab from Jonathan Wallace was just his second reception of the season and 16th of his career.
Westerman played in his third game this year and made his first start at left guard, which sent John Sullen to right guard, Chad Slade to left tackle and Greg Robinson out of the lineup. Westerman did leave the game in the third quarter with a left ankle injury.
Safety dance: Auburn got credit for its first safety this season when Alabama A&M oversnapped its punter in the fourth quarter. With the ball settling at the 2-yard-line and a gunner closing in, Bulldogs punter Chance Wilson batted the ball out of the back of the end zone, awarding the Tigers two points.