AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Sean White gave Auburn fans something to cheer about when he trotted onto the field, then Josh Holsey helped make sure they had something even bigger to celebrate.
The 11th-ranked Tigers survived a 23-16 scare Saturday against Vanderbilt that left them with a clear path to the Southeastern Conference championship game, as long as they keep winning.
An injured White came off the bench to loud applause opening the second half with his team down 13-10 and quickly delivered a 21-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said White was "banged up" and didn't take a snap in practice leading up to the game.
"Sean threw some in warmups, moved around, and it was kind of one of those deals he thought he could go," Malzahn said. "And at halftime we just made the move."
Holsey sealed the win with a last-minute interception deep in Auburn territory.
The Tigers (7-2, 5-1 Southeastern Conference, No. 9 CFP) sputtered after starting John Franklin III in place of White, who also led two field goal drives.
The win, coupled with Mississippi State's upset of No. 7 Texas A&M, means Auburn can win the SEC West outright with victories over Georgia and No. 1 Alabama. That game was airing on Auburn's huge video board in the minutes after this one ended, setting off another celebration for fans after the Tigers' sixth straight win.
Vandy (4-5, 1-4) stayed alive into the final minute against the 26-point favorites thanks to Caleb Scott's 29-yard catch of a tipped ball on fourth and 18. The Commodores moved to Auburn's 30 before Holsey's interception put it away.
"I saw my guy go to the flats and I saw (quarterback Kyle Shurmur) pat the ball one too many times, and I just felt something was going to be behind me," said Holsey, whose pick set up the final touchdown against Mississippi. "My instincts took me to the ball."
The drive was set up when Daniel Carlson's attempt at his fourth field goal was blocked. Alabama native Zach Cunningham leapt over the line at the snap and knocked it down. Cunningham said he had figured out the snapper's cadence and linebacker coach Chris Marve instructions were "jump over him, but you aren't allowed to touch him or anyone else."
Carlson set Auburn's career mark for field goals with three in the game.
White completed 10 of 13 passes for 106 yards and Kamryn Pettway topped 160 rushing yards for the fourth straight game. Pettway ran 25 times for 173 yards, but came up limping at the end of a 60-yard run to set up the decisive score after appearing on his way to the end zone. He was clutching his left leg on the ground.
Malzahn said "he pulled something obviously."
Vandy coach Derek Mason said he didn't know Franklin would start.
"I thought our guys handled it and adapted because when he is in the game, it is more wildcat than anything else," Mason said.
Shurmur completed 24 of 36 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 21-yarder on the final drive before the pick.
"We had a great opponent, and we were not going to cower in fear," Shurmur said. "We were going to go right after them."
Auburn: The Tigers showed they can survive a down-to-the-wire game and imperfect performance, but perhaps not an SEC game without White. They still looked vulnerable to the pass after Mississippi's Chad Kelly had a school-record performance. Auburn was especially thin at linebacker with Deshaun Davis's first half ejection for targeting. Starter Tre' Williams was out with an injury.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores were one big play from winning a third straight game for the first time since 2013. They couldn't get the running game going; the SEC's No. 2 rusher Ralph Webb gained 46 yards on 13 carries.
Auburn didn't earn style points for the win, but still could move into the Top 10 and possibly move up a spot or two in the playoff rankings.
Vanderbilt visits Missouri in a potential battle for last in the SEC East.
Auburn visits traditional rival Georgia likely needing a win to remain in SEC West contention.