Homecoming week on the Plains was concluded with Auburn’s football game against Samford in which the Tigers used three scores from quarterback Payton Thorne to defeat Samford 45-13.
The win for the Tigers lengthened its winning streak in homecoming games to 32 consecutive wins.
“I thought there were some really good things tonight, and obviously, some things we still got to work on and clean up,” said head coach Hugh Freeze. “But congratulations to our kids and staff for becoming 2-0 at Jordan-Hare and 3-0 on the season.”
While Thorne threw two end zone interceptions, Auburn’s starter still had a big game in yardage through the air and on the ground, tossing for 282 yards and rushing for 123. Thorne also recorded one passing touchdown to wide receiver Shane Hooks and ran for two touchdowns.
While the Tigers got off to a slow start with a scoreless first quarter, the middle quarters is where Auburn found the most success.
Thorne’s 32-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Hooks was preceded by another big play — a 40-yard pass from Thorne to Omari Kelly. Those passes from Thorne were two of a total five passing plays that gained 20 yards or more against Samford. Thorne had five of those plays coming into the homecoming matchup.
“I think it’s the first time since like 2013 that Auburn’s had a quarterback rush for 100 yards and threw for over 200, so I thought he had a solid day,” Freeze said. “We’ve got to get more confidence in us being a balanced offense, and that was the goal.”
A Jaylin Simpson interception later in the second quarter put Auburn inside the Samford 25-yard line where Thorne used his legs for his first rushing score in an Auburn uniform.
Simpson’s interception marked his third through the first three games of the season, making him the first Tiger to record an interception in three consecutive games since Jerraud Powers in 2007.
“I think that my confidence is very high,” Simpson said. “Before I step on the field, I just make sure I am the most confident person. I think a confident player is real dangerous. My confidence is just there. I go out there, I just play the call, do my job.”
Simpson was not the lone Tiger to pick off Samford quarterback Michael Hiers as sophomore cornerback J.D. Rhym also picked off Hiers in the second quarter for his first career interception.
Holding a 17-0 lead through the first two quarters, Auburn got the ball to start the second half and orchestrated a 13-play, 76-yard drive ended by a Robby Ashford 1-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers up 24-7. Ashford’s touchdown was his fourth on the ground this season.
The Tigers had an 18-point lead heading into the fourth and added the finishing touches thanks to the legs of Thorne again and the arm of Ashford.
Thorne found the end zone for the second time midway through the final quarter, keeping a read option for himself and scampering in from 18 yards out. With the lead at 25, Ashford took over in relief of Thorne and used his arm to find tight end Micah Riley for the final touchdown of the game. The touchdown marked Ashford’s first passing touchdown of the 2023 season and Riley’s first touchdown catch at Auburn.
Thorne accounted for 405 total yards while Ashford had 75. Thorne’s 123 yards on the ground led the team while wide receiver Jay Fair led the team in yards receiving with 93 on seven catches.
“I thought we got into a good rhythm early on,” Thorne said. “I thought the receivers did a great job out there, and I was on the same page as them and they did a good job corralling the ball and making plays. I felt like we got in a good rhythm today, and we just tried to continue that throughout the game.”
Defensively, Caleb Wooden led the team in tackles with six and also had 1.5 tackles for loss. As a team, the Tigers recorded seven tackles for loss, six pass breakups and two sacks, one from Cam Riley and one from Lawrence Johnson.
Next on the schedule, Auburn travels to College Station, Texas, to face the Texas A&M Aggies in both team’s first conference game of the season. The game will kick off at 11 a.m. CST and be televised on ESPN.
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Jacob Waters is a senior majoring in journalism. From Leeds, Alabama, he started with The Plainsman in August, 2021.