It was simply the most unbelievable ending, and it was a night that Alabama players and fans would like to forget. It was one of the more exciting upsets ever, and a game folks will talk about forevermore. It was pretty astonishing, watching the last second of the 2013 Iron Bowl go from an epic battle to an instant classic between Alabama and Auburn, often hyped to be college football’s greatest rivalry.
The last second that ended with a bang won’t ever be forgotten for those who witnessed it, embraced it and waited for a moment like this one. These are the moments we want to remember, breathtaking finishes that will last a lifetime, memories that will take us back to the last second of an unforgettable play. This was one of those wonderful and odd moments in sports that are so extraordinary that it will never end for those who lived to see a miracle.
Auburn’s Chris Davis caught the ball in end zone after a missed Crimson Tide field goal, and returned it 109 yards for a game-winning touchdown that stunned two-time defending championships Alabama 34-28. Auburn fans came out of the crowd, dressed in blue and orange and celebrated on the field. There were moments during this game when the place was so loud, you could feel the stadium rattle. And this amazing play that suffuses this feel-good story changed Auburn’s miraculous season for the better.
In NCAA college football, only four missed field goals have been returned for touchdowns. There have been in the past — believe it or not — crazy finishes on the last play of these big games. There have been some of the most memorable plays in college football over the years, such as “The Band is Out On the Field!” — Stanford vs. Cal. Or maybe even the Doug Flutie Hail Mary that was a game-winner.
The Crimson Tide were favored to beat their rivals, and more importantly, they were making a run to a third straight national title. A football program best known for its pigskin and the most famous of all, Paul “Bear” Bryant became a group that personifies the ideals of teamwork, communication, work ethic and camaraderie. Unfortunately, after Nick Saban made the worst decision in his masterful coaching career, Alabama was deprived of a chance at winning. The play, which ended Alabama’s run for a third consecutive national title, stunned and saddened Alabama, many of them fans, including Saban who took off his headset, tossed it to the ground and walked off the field.
He’s the undisputed king of college football coaches, but on this night, he was the culprit. He wasn’t thinking smart in the final minutes of the game, and while Saban lost trust in his kicker Cade Foster who missed three field goals, he made two crucial mistakes that were questionable and turned out catastrophic. Auburn made the genius of college coaches look dumb. The odd makers, as expected, picked Alabama to win. The Crimson Tide — and we can’t sugarcoat it — were unstoppable all year.
But that was all before this past Saturday, when the Tigers’ relentless defense came up big, forcing a 44-yard field goal attempt that Robenson Therezie blocked. That one defensive stop altered Auburn’s unthinkable season. But it also came down to a series of running plays, as the Tigers moved the ball 65 yards all on the ground with quarterback Nick Marshall and speedy running back Tre Mason, setting up the tying touchdown.
Marshall tied the game with a 39-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Sammie Coates with 32 seconds left. But the game-changing play came when Davis caught freshman Adam Griffith’s 57-yard field goal and kept his foot in bounds to script Auburn’s success story. The game was, after all, one of the most wildly interesting moments and overtime was imminent, but when Davis caught it and blew past Alabama field-goal unit, getting blocks from his teammates, he turned the impossible into the possible.
Oh my goodness!
Unbelievable. Incredible. Unreal.
Davis’ impact on the field, however, was outstanding, especially when it was a game-changing play. He sprinted left and cut back, near the Auburn sideline, as the fans roared and waved their orange pompons. Auburn however, was fortunate when the last second was put back on the clock after a replay review. The clock had expired after Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon ran to the Auburn 39. It was ruled Yeldon stepped out of bounds with a second left.
This set up the Auburn miracle.
While Saban had the option to take a knee and send it to overtime, he chose to go with the field-goal unit for the final time. For now, though, Auburn fans will take it, and might even thank Saban for giving the Tigers a chance to win on a return.
And maybe this year… after all this… there was something special about a season that defined the true meaning of improbability. It’s safe to say that this was feverishly one of the greatest upsets in school history. More than ever, it’s quite fitting that a game of this magnitude ended like this one. It would be easy to imagine, now that Alabama doesn’t have a realistic chance, the 2013 Tigers delivering a loud statement. Saturday’s dramatic ending to Alabama vs. Auburn shook up the BCS standings, with the Tigers celebrating their statement victory that was so stunning.
Here’s the incredible part: The Tigers are the darlings of SEC football, and continue to write a storybook that’s nothing more but improbable. The unstoppable Tigers embody everything about college football that touches people’s hearts. This is why people watch, simply because folks become infatuated with the underdog, but more importantly, these feel-good stories, falling in love with Auburn whose resurgence has been nothing short of remarkable.
It’s been a magical turnaround from 3-9 last year to 11-1 and SEC West champions with first-year head coach Gus Malzahn, who wisely called a timeout on the final play to ice Griffith. It has never ceased to amaze us how he switched return man Ryan Smith for Davis, who is Auburn’s punt returner. Put simply, Malzahn completely outcoached Saban late in this game. The fact that Auburn beat Georgia on a fourth-down, game-winning 73-yard Hail Mary catch by Ricardo Louis with 25 seconds left in the last game still is unreal, but the ending to this game was even more unimaginable. The fact that the Tigers dethroned Alabama on Davis’ last-second, 109-yard touchdown return creates one of the greatest BCS debates.
This isn’t a football program that you can ignore and Auburn should play for the national title on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, California. If this should happen, the Tigers will likely play unbeaten Florida State, who is en route to claiming the No. 1 seed in the BCS standings. We tried ignoring undefeated Ohio State, but it can earn the No. 2 spot, although it has played a light schedule in a weak Big Ten.
This is the most intense rivalry in college football, and unbelievably this one had the wildest ending. This wasn’t like all the Iron Bowls played in the past. So with that in mind, these great memories of this Iron Bowl will live forever.