AUBURN, Ala. -- A lot can happen in one second.
Auburn continued its inexplicable season and set fire to Alabama’s hope of a three-peat by beating the Crimson Tide 34-28, another lurid reminder that no rivalry game is predictable, and that college football is the greatest.
With the score tied at 28, it seemed like overtime was inevitable. The Crimson Tide ran the ball past midfield and running back T.J. Yeldon ran out of bounds with the clock expiring, unsure whether or not there was one second remaining on the clock. After a highly booed referee’s review and heavy campaigning from the Alabama sideline, it was determined that Yeldon stepped out of bounds with one second left on the clock, leaving Alabama with a few different options: Run it or kneel it, and play for overtime; try a Hail Mary pass to the end zone or kick a 57-yard field goal, but risk a potential block or interception return for a touchdown. Nick Saban chose Adam Griffith and his big right leg to attempt the field goal. What’s the worst that could happen? Field goal goes in, Alabama wins. Field goal misses, it's overtime.
Unfortunately for Alabama, Auburn cornerback Chris Davis was deep in the end zone waiting for a missed field goal. He fielded the short and errant kick and returned the wide-right field goal 109 yards for a touchdown. There was no time left on the clock, Auburn had won the game and no one could utter a word, other than the 87,000 screaming people in blue and orange who were pouring onto Pat Dye Field.
“Griff makes them from 60 in practice so there was a shot,” Saban said. “We had the wind behind us. We had the wind in the fourth quarter. He didn’t hit it great, but we still should have covered it. The game shouldn’t have ended that way.”
“Fans, please remain in the stands and off of the field,” said the Auburn public address announcer during the third quarter, a plea that was met with scoffs in the windy, open-aired press box. After the “Kick-Six,” the fans ignored this message, as they should. These plainsmen and plainswomen may not get another chance to see their team defeat their most hated rival in Auburn, while ranked No. 1, on a time-expiring missed field goal return touchdown. They may not get another chance to see that happen because no one has ever seen anything like that happen. I watched it from the sideline, 20 feet away, and I am still in need of some convincing.
“First time I’ve ever lost a game that way. First time I have ever seen a game lost that way,” Saban said.
Maybe this year’s Auburn team is a team of destiny. Maybe Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn went to Tibet this summer and captured the true vision of his team’s potential through meditation and levitation. Perhaps the Waffle House connoisseur and coach made a deal with a gypsy before the season started, promising to trade one of Auburn’s eagles for wins over Georgia and Alabama. All I know is that the bespectacled, visored, offensive guru from Arkansas out-coached the best coach in college football and voodoo was most definitely involved.
When Saban sent out his field goal team with that replenished singular second on the clock, Malzahn sent safety Ryan Smith back deep to field any missed field goal. Unsure about this decision, Malzahn called a timeout and sent Chris Davis out to the goal line instead: A decision that will almost certainly prevent Saban from adding another championship ring to his collection, and one that will thrust Auburn into serious national title discussions.
This Iron Bowl, as well as the “Immaculate Deflection” win over Georgia, was a miraculous result for Auburn. The only explanation for these continuously unfathomable victories is either divine intervention, an exorbitant amount of luck that was stockpiled during the non-Cam, Chizik year(s), or stellar preparation and coaching, complete with a team that is opportunistic and resilient.
The Tigers simply had a superior game plan on Saturday, with superior execution. They outsmarted the best defense in the country—running the ball on a defense that does not allow running—and proved that even the dynastic Alabama cannot maintain perfection forever. Auburn may not blow anyone away, but if the score is close near the end of the game, the Tigers have shown that no game is ever over until they say so.
“I really can’t believe it happened,” Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “Nobody would have ever expected that.”
The team that only Charles Barkley picked to win stunned their intrastate football rival in the most exciting, thrilling game that I have ever seen, and now it’s Auburn’s turn to try and keep the BCS trophy within that same state’s football-loving borders.