Pat Sullivan's first trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium in 15 years started with a pre-game ceremony in his honor and ended with his Samford team giving the defending national champions all they could handle for three quarters.
The Bulldogs hung in with Auburn - Sullivan's alma mater - until the Tigers reeled off 14 fourth-quarter points for a 35-16 win Saturday.
Sullivan, the fifth-year Samford head coach, was honored before the game to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his 1971 Heisman Trophy win at Auburn, the school's first Heisman.
The ceremony included around 50 of his former teammates, and both teams stood at the 25-yard lines to pay tribute, with Auburn's players raising their helmets high as the former Tigers quarterback received a standing ovation.
Jimmy Speigner, one of Sullivan's Auburn teammates, even informed Sullivan that he'd be pouring the ashes of former teammate Ronnie Ross - who died of cancer in December 2009 - on the field before the game.
Ross caught Sullivan's first touchdown pass at Auburn, and Speigner told Sullivan he'd pour Ross' ashes at the spot in which he caught the touchdown.
''It was special. I didn't anticipate all this when we made the game a couple years ago,'' Sullivan said. ''Having my teammates back, that was important to me.
''I thought it was very appropriate. I thought it was nicely done.''
Samford (6-5) closed within 21-16 on a 37-yard field goal by Cameron Yaw with 13:22 left to play, set up by a reverse pass from wide receiver Kelsey Pope to Jeremiaha Gates for 28 yards into Auburn territory.
The Bulldogs had a fourth-and-1 from the Auburn 19-yard line, but opted to go for the Yaw field goal.
Clint Moseley, not usually known for his rushing capabilities, took a quarterback keeper 22 yards for the score with 11:28 remaining to give Auburn (7-4) the breathing room it would need in the win.
The Tigers added a 10-yard touchdown run from Onterio McCalebb with 2:17 to go for the final margin.
Dustin Taliaferro went 17-of-32 for 161 yards, with a touchdown and an interception for Samford. Pope caught 13 passes for 90 yards and a score, while Gates posted his first career 100-yard game, rushing 28 times for 119 yards.
The Bulldogs managed 338 yards -189 passing, 149 rushing -on the game.
Moseley went 13-of-20 passing for 167 yards and a score, and Mike Dyer rushed 30 times for 157 yards and a score for the Tigers.
Dyer, a sophomore, passed James Joseph -currently Samford's running backs coach -for 10th on Auburn's all-time career rushing list. He has 2,287 yards in 25 games at Auburn.
The Tigers scored the eventual winning touchdown on a 6-yard Dyer run with 3:25 to go in the third, capping off a 14-play, 70-yard drive in which Auburn handed off to Dyer on the last seven plays and he ran for 51 yards to put the Tigers up 21-13.
Samford had cut the lead to 14-13 with 7:22 left in the third quarter, driving 70 yards in 14 plays - including 42 on the ground from Gates - to set up a 28-yard field goal by Yaw, but the Bulldogs could never get the upper hand.
Auburn started off the scoring with a 32-yard strike from Moseley to Philip Lutzenkirchen down the seam, finishing off a nine-play, 55-yard drive and giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead with 7:07 to go in the first quarter.
The Tigers had a chance to add to their lead on the next drive, but Cody Parkey pushed a 32-yard field goal wide left and Samford took over at the 20-yard line.
The Bulldogs drove 80 yards on 10 plays from their - aided by a late hit penalty on third down that gave them a first-and-goal at the Tigers' 6 - and Taliaferro found Pope for an 8-yard score to tie the score at 7-7 with 14:27 left in the half.
Auburn answered right back with a 10-play, 60-yard drive - ending on a 10-yard touchdown run by McCalebb - to go up 14-7 with 10:03 in the half, but Samford closed within 14-10 with a 40-yard field goal by Yaw 2:32 before the break, a lead the Tigers took into halftime.
Auburn's offense put up 219 yards in the first half - 131 passing 88 rushing - but suffered from two costly lost fumbles around midfield, the second of which set up the Bulldogs' field-goal drive.