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BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 10 - Auburn Tight End Rivaldo Fairweather (#13) during the game between the Auburn Tigers and the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, CA on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers

Auburn Football Escapes Disaster Against Cal

BERKELEY, Calif. (EETV) – It was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but Auburn football will leave the state of California with a win for the first time in school history. The Tigers narrowly beat the Golden Bears 14-10 to improve to 2-0 on the young season.

"I don't think we could've played any uglier or sloppier on offense," said head coach Hugh Freeze after the game. "There's times where we're going to have to hold them to 10 and we got to score 11. This was one of those nights."

Auburn would begin on offense, and almost immediately set the tone for the game to come. Peyton Thorne fumbled on 3rd down right into the arms of Cal linebacker Jackson Sirmon, giving Cal the ball at the Tigers’ 35-yard line. Auburn looked to have Cal stopped, but coach Justin Wilcox made an aggressive call to go for it on 4th and 1, and the Golden Bears converted. However, the Auburn defense didn’t break, forcing Cal to settle for a 39-yard field goal by kicker Michael Luckhurst. 

From there, the game would continue to be a story of errors by both sides. Auburn committed 4 turnovers, off of which all ten of Cal’s points were scored. The Golden Bears gave the ball away 3 times in their own right, leading to seven points for the Tigers. The Golden Bears also helped Auburn out in the kicking game. Sophomore kicker Michael Luckhurst missed three field goals from 42 (twice) and 45 yards, respectively. 

The Auburn offense struggled to get into gear all night long, putting up a mere 230 yards. Even so, the passing offense was particularly disappointing. The Tigers were held under 100 yards through the air yet again, a feeling all too familiar to the Auburn faithful after they fell short of this threshold in 3 of the final 4 games of 2022. Payton Thorne finished the day 9 for 14 through the air for 94 yards, also throwing an interception. Robby Ashford also had three passing attempts, but only one was completed and it went for no gain.

Despite this, both of Auburn’s touchdowns also came courtesy of Payton Thorne passes; one from 13 yards out by Jay Fair and one from five yards out by Rivaldo Fairweather. Fairweather was a rare bright spot for the Tigers’ offense, catching 3 passes for 39 yards and a touchdown. Fairweather was the only Tiger with more than 2 catches, as well as the only Tiger with more than 25 yards receiving.

"I've seen Rivaldo do that too many times in practice," Freeze said of Fairweather's touchdown grab.

The real stars of the night for Auburn, however, were on the defensive side of the ball. Junior linebacker Eugene Asante led the way for the Tigers with 12 tackles, nine of which were solo. Asante also had 1.5 TFLs, 2 QB hits, and a pass breakup. Asante was a true leader on the field for the defense in a game in which the defense deserved much of the credit for the win.

Another defensive standout was junior safety/star hybrid Donovan Kaufman, who continues to blossom in DC Ron Robert’s attacking scheme. Kaufman racked up 8 tackles, 4 solo, and half a TFL; as well as a forced fumble and recovery which gave the Auburn offense a short field and led to a touchdown. 

Overall, the Auburn defense showed out, holding Cal to 273 total yards: 160 through the air and 113 on the ground. Cornerbacks D.J. James and Jaylin Simpson each picked off Cal QB Sam Jackson V once. The Golden Bears only managed 3.5 yards per play. Coach Freeze had this to say about the defense after the game: “We kept putting them in the… back against the wall. Turnovers, penalties, we played awful on offense. The whole defense I thought just played really solid. We were down 2 DBS in the second half, playing a bunch of freshmen, and I’m just really proud of them. And Can’t say enough about our staff, the plan they had, and our kids.”

Though Coach Freeze wasn’t happy with everything in the game, he acknowledged that “A win is a win.” Auburn will now look to next week, when they take on Samford back in Jordan-Hare Stadium on what is homecoming weekend for the Tigers.


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