AUBURN, Ala. — The catch will be replayed for eternity in Iron Bowl circles.
Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen slipped past Alabama’s defenders, catching a wide open throwback pass from Cam Newton for a 7-yard touchdown that lifted the Tigers to a 28-27 victory last Friday.
Then came the dance. Teammates still can’t quite decide how to describe it.
“The leprechaun dance,” left tackle Lee Ziemba said.
“It looked like a Riverdance to me,” right guard Byron Isom said.
“I asked him: ‘What was that?’ ” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “He said he was excited. Wow. We’ll give him that one since that was such a big play. We’ll let it go that one time.”
Lutzenkirchen has come into his own of late. The 6-foot-4, 258-pound sophomore’s role has largely been as a blocker this year, a major step forward for the tight end, who was primarily a receiver/H-back at Lassiter High in Marietta, Ga.
“He’s had to learn to block and learn to do different things for us offensively other than catch the football,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “And I think he’s really come a long way in that regard. It’s been good to watch him evolve, and he’s been a big part of our offense.”
Lutzenkirchen said he’s done a 180 in his blocking from high school, adding a physical mindset that has helped Auburn SEC-leading running game.
But he’s made the highlights for his receiving skills, especially as a red zone target.
“Sometimes he’s in the backfield. Sometimes he’s at 3-point stance, hand-on-the-ground guy,” Chizik said. “But no matter where he is he’s got good hands and can catch it.”
Although he has only 12 receptions this year, five have gone for touchdowns. Three have come in the last two games, once he returned from a stinger that kept him out of the better part of two weeks.
“He kind of gets lost,” Malzahn said. “He’s got great hands. He runs very good routes. It’s a tribute, too, to our other playmakers that he can get lost. He’s really made some big plays at some big times this year.”’
Friday’s was the biggest. Newton faked a handoff and moved to his right in the pocket along with nearly everyone in the formation. Lutzenkirchen, who lined up on the right hand side, acted like he was going to block, then released into a route on the left side of the field.
Alabama lost track of him and Newton lobbed the game-winner back to Lutzenkirchen at the goal line.
What ran through his mind?
“Don’t drop it,” he said. “Everything kind of slows down and you’ve really got to focus in and make sure you see the ball into your hands and pray that you don’t drop it.”
He didn’t. What happened next was unplanned. In a outburst of joy, Lutzenkirchen waltzed toward the back of the end zone, kicking his legs out to the side in a little jig.
“I’ve been getting so much grief for that,” he said. “Just one of those things where I was so excited I really didn’t know what I was doing. I’ve got nothing to say about that.”
“I asked him what he was thinking,” Isom said, laughing. “He said he just blacked out.”
It’s spawned a dance -- Google “Teach me how to Lutzie” to see -- and gained him YouTube fame for a second time (he batted a pass back to a teammate for a touchdown while falling out of the end zone in high school).
After all the grief he’s taken from his friends, does he think the dance will catch on?
“I hope it doesn’t,” Lutzenkirchen said coyly. “I really hope it doesn’t.”