Guerry Clegg commentary: Big plays and even bigger finish in Iron Bowl

November 30, 2013 

AUBURN, Ala. --

Epic.

The Mother of All Iron Bowls.

We kept hearing so much hyperbole building up to this year's Alabama-Auburn showdown that it seemed impossible for it to live up to the hype.

Turns out we undersold it.

The only thing impossible was the game itself. The records books will not do it justice. They will read something like:

"2013 - Auburn 34, Alabama

28"

The final line of the scoring summary will read:

"0:00 -- Chris Davis 109-yard missed field goal return"

Just as the 1960 World Series box score from Game 7 reads, "Pirates 10, Yankees 9 … HR-Mazeroski."

Perhaps nothing can ever surpass the 1989 Iron Bowl, Alabama's first visit to Jordan-Hare Stadium, for the sheer magnitude of conquering politics and the legend of Bear Bryant, who vowed never to play at "the cow college," as he supposedly called it.

Set that one aside. As for magical moments, nothing can top Saturday night. How could it? It's the Iron Bowl, and Alabama came in ranked No. 1 in the country and on track for its third consecutive national championship. And even though Auburn was enjoying a season to remember and had climbed to No. 4 in the country, beating Bama seemed just too good to be true.

That certainly seemed to be the case when the Crimson Tide shook off some early rust and took a 21-7 lead late in the first half.

The Tigers answered with two touchdowns, one just before halftime and one to start the third quarter. But it still seemed unlikely that their magic could continue after Bama took a 28-21, then lined up for a field goal with a chance to stretch the lead to 10 with less than three minutes to play.

Had it ended there, the Tigers still would have had reason to celebrate. After winning only three games last season, to come back and win 10 games -- which included beating Texas A&M and Georgia -- nothing could make this season anything but sweet.

But then …

Auburn's sweet moment became epic.

The Tigers had run the read-option with quarterback Nick Marshall keeping the ball and running wide. Marshall is blazing fast. Get him on the edge, one-on-one with the cornerback, and he's hard to bring down. Cyrus Jones, the Alabama cornerback, had seen the play over and over. So Jones left his man, receiver Sammy Coates, a split second early to play the run. When he did, Coates knew what to expect. Suddenly, Marshall pulled up and tossed a pass to Coates, who was wide open.

"I saw Nick's arm start to come up, and my eyes just got real big," said Coates. "I knew it was coming because I was so open."

The touchdown pass covered 39 yards and came with 32 seconds left in the regulation. Yet it would become almost a footnote to what happened 31 game seconds later. Alabama's T.J. Yeldon ran 23 yards as the clocked ticked to 0:00. But after officials reviewed the play, they determined that there was one second left when he went out of bounds.

Cade Foster, Alabama's normally dependable kicker, had missed three attempts earlier. So Nick Saban put in Adam Griffith to reach for a 57-yard field goal. He had the wind at his back. But the Tigers have had the wind in their sails all season. Gus Malzahn called timeout and put Chris Davis deep in the end zone, just in case the kick was short.

"I knew when I caught the ball, I would have room to run, and I knew they had bigger guys on the field to protect."

Why not? Nothing to lose. Even then, overtime seemed inevitable. Malzahn started preparing his players. Coates disagreed.

"I said, 'No, Chris is fixing to run this back.'"

Sure enough, Griffith's kick was short. Davis caught it almost standing against the back of the end zone. Then he took off. Still, overtime seemed likely. But when Davis hit the left sideline in front of the Auburn bench, Coates had a good feeling.

"They had too many big guys out there," Coates said. "Chris was just too fast for them."

"God is good," Davis said. "That's all I've got to say about that."

Auburn fans poured onto Pat Dye Field, so named for the man who was determined to bring the Iron Bowl to Jordan-Hare Stadium. It turned into the biggest block party this stadium has ever seen. The scoreboard read:

"Auburn 34, Alabama 28"

The tens of thousands of fans celebrating told the real story. Malzahn was asked if this was the biggest moment of his career. Malzahn named a few, then got a correction from the crowd.

"Just say yes," said his wife Kristi.

"OK, yes."

Hard to argue.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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