Georgia St Auburn Football

Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger takes a hit from Auburn defensive end Colby Wooden on Saturday. [BUTCH DILL/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

AUBURN — The play looked dead, and maybe Auburn's season with it.

T.J. Finley, the quarterback nobody thought would be in the game for such a moment, must have had the previous play on his mind, when he missed an open receiver for what would have been a game-winning touchdown.

Now he was running backward, away from the end zone on fourth-and-goal, pressured into prayer by Georgia State. When he turned and saw Shedrick Jackson open, the breathtaking play was more than a game-winning touchdown. It was season-saving.

Finley, the backup quarterback called on with the Tigers down 12 in the second half, led Auburn to a 34-24 win over Georgia State on Saturday.

Finley led a 13-play, 98-yard go-ahead drive, and his 9-yard touchdown pass to Jackson on fourth-and-goal with 45 seconds left completed a comeback possibly more stunning than the upset would have been.

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1. Finley's final stand: Auburn took over at its own 2-yard line with 3:23 left and Finley leading the offense out for his fourth possession in relief of starter Bo Nix. To get out of safety territory, Auburn turned to Jarquez Hunter, another backup nobody expected to be in the game at such a dire time. But the freshman's 18-yard run jump-started the drive.

Finley found Kobe Hudson for 15 yards on a third-and-11 to keep the Tigers alive. If they hadn't converted, there would have been a punt-or-go decision for Bryan Harsin with three timeouts in his pocket.

Instead, the drive lived, and the legend of Finley grew with a 16-yard scramble, a throw on the run to Elijah Canion for a 12-yard gain and a 19-yard completion to John Samuel Shenker.

Then the drive seemed destined to stall again inside the 10 before Finley's magic saved the day.

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2. Special teams also saves the day: Anders Carlson made all four field-goal attempts in the first half to account for all of Auburn's points. Then after the offense punted twice to start the second half, unexpected heroes stepped up on special teams. Caylin Newton blocked a punt, and reserve linebacker Barton Lester fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown.

It slimmed the deficit to 24-19 in the third quarter and brought renewed life to Jordan-Hare Stadium. That energy swelled when Finley entered for Auburn's next possession.

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3. Ground defense gashed, then gutsy: Auburn's run defense was No. 1 in the country in yards per carry allowed entering this game, but Georgia State's triple option attack rolled over the Tigers in the first half. The Panthers totaled 219 in a first half in which they scored touchdowns on their last three possessions.

Tucker Gregg's 50-yard touchdown with 2:54 left in the half turned out to be Georgia State's final points. Everything switched in the second half when the Panthers had just 85 yards total offense.

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