Auburn stuns ‘Bama and tired coach
So the Iron Bowl happened this past Saturday.
No. 1 Alabama rolled into Auburn, Ala. on a mission: four national titles in five years. Sure, Alabama would still have to win the SEC Championship next weekend and then the BCS Championship Game approximately a year from now (at least, that’s how it would feel), but a win in Auburn would’ve almost guaranteed at least a shot at being called a “dynasty.”
No. 4 Auburn, meanwhile, still had hopes for a title shot as well coming off of a miraculous Hail Mary catch to win the Nov. 16 thriller against Georgia. The highest-ranked one-loss team, Auburn could’ve conceivably won out and made the championship game had either Florida State or Ohio State lost beforehand. By kickoff Saturday, Ohio State had indeed almost lost to Michigan in Ann Arbor, though a failed two-point conversion gave OSU the narrow 42-41 victory. Florida State crushed their opponent, per usual.
Let’s fast forward to the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Iron Bowl, which was something out of an insane TV movie or perhaps out of famous Auburn alum Bo Jackson’s dreams. Every decision seemed to either be the gutsiest call ever or the dumbest move in the long history of dumb football moves.
Time slowed down, cornerbacks really slowed down, and Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban became increasingly tired. I couldn’t help but notice that as the second half wore on, Saban looked more and more like he needed to sleep for about 20 hours straight. Even if something irked him, he could muster merely a quick yell before tiring out. Maybe that’s why…oh, better not spoil the ending yet.
The last frame started with what seemed to be the end. With his entire fan club (also known as CBS) watching across the country and the game tied at 21, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron had what many on TV and Twitter immediately deemed as his “Heisman Moment.”
After ‘Bama’s offense missed a second field goal (don’t forget this) and was pinned inside its own one-yard line again by Auburn’s sensational punter (who later knocked himself out by tackling a punt returner head first…), McCarron let fly a deep pass down the right side. The ball hung up in the air for a few seconds, yet the Auburn safety still couldn’t play proper deep coverage. ‘Bama’s Amari Cooper caught the ball in stride and pranced to the end zone for a 99-yard TD pass and catch. 28-21, ‘Bama.
That was just the beginning of a bizzaro fourth quarter. Auburn got the ball back but was unable to reach midfield. At this point, you could feel Auburn’s impending doom. The McCarron-Cooper bomb had sucked the life out of Auburn players and fans alike. With 8:28 to go in the fourth, Auburn made one last desperate attempt to stay with ‘Bama. On fourth-and-one from its own 35-yard line, Auburn went for it…and failed. Turnover on downs. Game over, right?
Alabama ran the clock down to 5:34 and reached the Auburn 13-yard line. A field goal would’ve made it a two possession game and practically ended it all. Sure, Kicker-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named missed two previous field goals, but this one would’ve been merely 31 yards.
Saban signals to go for it. The teams line up. Another run play from ‘Bama. Stuffed. Turnover on Downs. New life for Auburn.
Yet again, however, Auburn could not capitalize. Auburn ended up punting from its own five-yard line and ‘Bama was again in Auburn territory with the ball and up seven points. 2:41 left now, another fourth down. Kicker-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named lines up the 44-yd field goal attempt. A made kick definitely ends the game now.
It’s blocked. Auburn blocks the kick. Here come the Tigers. They go back to what has worked best for them all day – the triple threat option, except they run the ball every time. Tick tick tick. They get it to the ‘Bama 39, first-and-10. Marshall, play-action, rolls out to his left, he’s gonna run it – NO, wait! He tosses it from the line of scrimmage to a wide-open Sammie Coates! He’s all alone! Marshall was behind the line of scrimmage! Touchdown, Auburn! 28-28.
Thirty-two seconds left. ‘Bama gets it back at its own 29. A kneel down to force overtime, for sure. This game has been too intense to risk anything, except Nick Saban wants it over now. ‘Bama plays for the win in regulation, but only gets it to the Auburn 38 as time expires.
Except time doesn’t expire. Replay shows one second left. A Hail Mary and then overtime, one would think. Saban has other ideas. Kick the field goal, he says – though not with Kicker-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, but the freshman back-up. It’s a 57-yard attempt, what is he thinking? Auburn tries to ice him, to no avail. After the timeout, he gets off a good kick – it looks on target! Does it have the distance? Is ‘Bama about to rip the hearts out of the thousands of Auburn fans in attendance?
No, in fact. It’s about to go the other way – literally. The kick is short and lands in the arms of Chris Davis – no, not Baltimore’s Chris Davis, Auburn’s Chris Davis – in the back of the end zone. He brings it out – why not? ‘Bama’s players close in on him but can’t catch him. He darts for the left sideline, the Auburn sideline. No time on the clock, the field goal has been missed, and Davis is running like his hair is on fire. He zooms past his shouting Auburn brethren, past all of the players on the field. Tight-roping the sideline, he cuts back to the middle of the field.
It’s like a dream. Time no longer exists. All the other players look like they’re in quicksand except this Davis kid who could probably outrun Usain Bolt right now. He’s flying. No flags, no holding. Open space. He bolts into the end zone. Touchdown, Auburn. 34-28. Auburn wins the Iron Bowl.
Thousands of drunk and sober, male and female, young and old Auburn fans mob the field in a wild frenzy. Everyone on TV and Twitter is second-guessing Nick Saban at this point, but I’ll tell you what really happened – Saban got tired of being so easily successful. Did you know Saban is 62 years-old? I sure didn’t until this weekend. Perhaps he’s content with three national championships. Maybe he’s just going for the most spectacular endings possible now. Think about how ecstatic that freshman kicker would’ve been had he won the Iron Bowl in Auburn on a 57-yard field goal. Saban might’ve just been trying to spread the wealth of joy ‘Bama has experienced during his tenure there.
I don’t know, it’s a loose theory at this point. What definitely happened is that Auburn, AL had one of the greatest nights in college football history Saturday, though I imagine years down the road that those who were there will remember it more as a surreal dream than reality. Once in a good while, sports can give us such moments. If you ever get to be a part of one of them, never let it go.