Auburn coach Gus Malzahn was smiling.
Linebacker Deshaun Davis thought it was an odd sight considering the defense had just given up the game-winning touchdown to LSU as time expired.
“We were just trying to scramble to get the quarterback knocked down,” Davis said.
Davis caught a glimpse of the clock before the snap, but didn’t even have time to consider if time expired.
Officials extended “the most intense moment” of Davis’ life by going to the replay booth to review LSU quarterback Danny Etling’s 15-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Clark in the back corner of the end zone.
The play had a number of elements that could have been up for review — did Clark get both his feet down in-bounds? Did Etling cross the line of scrimmage before he threw it? It turned out the officials were looking to confirm a much simpler question.
“There was only one second on the clock and I knew they were going to wind it,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “When he did and the clock hit zero, I was pretty confident that time had already expired.”
Officials briefly stopped the clock when LSU was called for an illegal shift on the previous play. The flag negated what would have been a first down throw to Travin Dural down to the 2-yard line.
The illegal shift didn’t require a 10-second runoff, but since Dural was tackled inbounds the officials had to restart the clock once they set up the ball at the 15-yard line.
“We knew there would be no indication of when the clock would start,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We knew the referee wasn’t going to blow a whistle or tell our kids to get ready. He was going to raise his hand and drop it, then the clock would start. We were trying to get set up very quickly and we were pretty close.”
While LSU players celebrated what they thought was a stunning come from behind victory, Malzahn was busy trying to gather his players up on Auburn’s sideline.
“I knew that the clock went to zero,” Malzahn said. “It was just a matter of going up to the booth and confirming.”
FOX Sports rules analyst Mike Pereira, who is the former vice president of officials for the NFL, broke the final sequence down on social media crediting the officials for getting it right.
The only issue Pereira had was that the officials missed a false start on the final snap that would have ended the game.
“What a crazy ending at Auburn. In the end, replay made the right call…” Pereira said. “No ten second runoff as the illegal shift does not shut down the snap. Live ball foul so no runoff. The clock restarts on the ready for play with one second to go because the previous play ended inbounds. The clock restarts after the 1st dn (SIC).”
The elation on LSU’s sideline quickly turned sour as officials indicated their ruling before announcing it over the public address system at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn players wasted little time starting a celebration of their own by the student section on the south side of the stadium.
An elated Davis accidentally tackled Aubie as he made his way to this teammates.
“We fought very hard for that victory,” Davis said. “I feel like we deserved that.”
Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson, who had a key sack on LSU’s final drive, celebrated with a subdued smile that hid a wealth of emotions.
“God delivers on time,” Lawson said. “We’ve been praying for this. That’s why I was so emotional. You know, Auburn is such a special place, and coming from me having injuries, and last season, just to get a win for these fans. To get a win at home, it’s just a great feeling. A beautiful moment.”
It was the exact opposite kind of moment for LSU’s locker room with emotions ranging from disappointment to confusion.
“I don’t know what happen,” linebacker Arden Key said. “I didn’t see the replay or nothing.”
Offensive lineman Ethan Pocic didn’t even know the clock was going to restart before he snapped the ball on the final play.
“Danny (Etling) told us to snap it and that’s what we did,” Pocic said.
Pocic couldn’t have predicted how it would all shake out when the ball left his hands.
“That was unbelievable,” Pocic said. “I definitely thought we did (win). It’s crazy. One second you do, but then one second you don’t, but that’s college football.”
Miles couldn’t think of a comparable moment in his 36-year coaching career.
“We felt like we did everything we could and our kids did everything that they could do to win the game,” Miles said. “I don’t know if I have ever come as close to winning a game as compared to finishing second as I did tonight.”