By Tyler Conway
Gus Malzahn’s return to Auburn this season has often felt like something straight out of a movie. Chris Davis gave Malzahn’s story a fitting Hollywood ending on Saturday.
Davis returned a 57-yard field goal attempt from Adam Griffith for a touchdown as time expired, giving Auburn a 34-28 victory over Alabama in the 2013 Iron Bowl.
Taking the ball nearly at the back line of the opposite end zone, Davis scampered the entire way down the field, flanked by Tigers players who had set up a wide wedge down the sideline. Officially recognized as a 100-yard return, the senior defensive back’s thrilling play left Jordan-Hare Stadium in an unrecognizable sea of blue and orange as shell-shocked Crimson Tide players attempted to leave the field.
Auburn’s miracle victory nearly didn’t happen. T.J. Yeldon had set up the attempt with a 24-yard run, but it was initially ruled on the field that he stepped out of bounds as time expired. But after the replay official determined that Yeldon was out with one second remaining, Nick Saban decided to take a risk on attempting the deep field goal to end regulation.
Griffith had attempted just two career field goals prior to his 57-yarder, and he was only in the game because of the struggles of starting Alabama kicker Cade Foster. Foster had missed three field goals in the game, including two critical ones in the second half that proved even more important than they seemed at the time.
It was a fitting ending to one of the most hotly contested college football games in history.
The Tigers, once down 21-7 in the first half, spent their entire second half battling back in the game. They pounded the Alabama defense for 296 yards on the ground, with Nick Marshall and Tre Mason both having stellar days.
Mason became just the fifth player to rush for 100 yards against the Tide since 2008, finishing with 164 yards on 29 carries. Included in that was a critical one-yard touchdown with 1:40 remaining in the second quarter, which brought Auburn within a 21-14 deficit at the half.
Marshall was also solid on the ground, missing out on a 100-yard day by one yard and scampering for a 45-yard touchdown for the game’s opening score. But it was one surprising decision from Marshall through the air that even opened up the possibility of an Auburn comeback.
Down 28-21 with under a minute left, Marshall scampered out of the pocket on a designed run only to find a wide-open Sammie Coates dashing down the sideline. The Tigers quarterback hurriedly switched hands and made an accurate pass just before crossing the line of scrimmage, and Coates scampered in from 39 yards out to tie the score.
The final sequence obscured what most thought was AJ McCarron’s proverbial “Heisman Moment.” The Tide had taken a lead when McCarron, backed up to the edge of his own goal line for the second straight possession, found Amari Cooper down the right sideline for a school-record 99-yard touchdown pass. After taking some flak among Heisman voters for his lack of defining statistical outcomes, McCarron was putting together a second half fitting of the bronze statue.
While he had been almost entirely nondescript in the first half minus two touchdown passes early in the second quarter, McCarron seemingly came through when his team needed him most. He finished the game with 277 yards and three touchdowns.
It was also a banner game for Cooper, the wideout whose hyped sophomore season had been mired in injury. Cooper was the only Tide receiver able to find holes down the field, twice the recipient of McCarron bombs from Alabama’s goal line. The first, a 54-yard strike near the end of the third quarter, led to a 33-yard missed field goal from Foster.
T.J. Yeldon also had a solid outing with 141 yards on 26 carries, but it proved insufficient.
With the victory, Auburn clinches the SEC West division and will move on to play in the conference championship game. The Tigers’ opponent will be determined later on Saturday, with Missouri needing a victory over Texas A&M to clinch its first berth. If Missouri loses, Auburn will face South Carolina.