Auburn slays kings of college football, opening Tigers' destiny
Missed field goals, extra seconds on the clock, Nick Saban making mistakes. Auburn takes advantage in a big way, likely ending rival Alabama's championship run.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Even at the end, Nick Saban had the wind at his back.
It has always seemed that way these last four years. You know that. That's how Alabama's coach has made this dynastic run through college football, won 15 consecutive games and two straight national championships.
There was no problem, then, with The Great Saban putting that dynasty, that win streak, perhaps another national championship on the foot of a freshman kicker. Excellence would be rewarded. It always had been.
"Griff," Saban said of kicker Adam Griffith, "makes them from 60 in practice. So, there was a shot."
Saban took his shot with Griffith attempting a 57-yard field goal with one second left in a 28-28 Iron Bowl. What's the worst that could happen? Overtime. But then No. 99 (Griffith) watched his kick returned 100 yards, officially, to end a game they'll be talking about for decades.
If Saturday's delirium here ever ends.
An often-injured senior cornerback Chris Davis did the deed, pulling off Jordan-Hare Stadium's second consecutive miracle. This one had to be greater than even the Hail Aubie against Georgia two weeks ago. Davis caught Griffith's missed kick and dashed those 100 yards against Alabama, against the wind and into history.
Changed is the way we look at Saban, Alabama, Auburn and perhaps college football. The kings of the sport are wounded. Their run of national championships perhaps is over.
"First time I've ever lost a game that way," Saban said. "First time I've ever seen a game lost that way."
"When I looked back I said, 'I couldn't believe it,'" Davis said.
None of us could. Damn, if the Tigers didn't do again. Shock The Plains, the college football world, mostly themselves.
"Look at some of the ways we're winning these games," defensive end Dee Ford said. "We had a zero to 10 percent chance of winning these games."
When Saban looks back, he may admit to himself he was outcoached. The Tide blew a 21-7 lead when the game looked all but locked up in the first half. He went for it when he shouldn’t -- up 28-21 late in the fourth quarter. He kicked it when he shouldn’t -- a late field goal block allowed Auburn a chance to tie.
Gus Malzahn molded the game's definitive drive. Down 28-21, the Tigers pounded the middle six straight times before quarterback Nick Marshall flipped it to a wide open Sammie Coates for the game-tying 39-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left.
"We believe we'd win the whole time," Coates said.
Saban didn't sit on the ball. The 57-yard attempt to keep the dream alive came about only because officials determined T.J. Yeldon’s 24-yard run to the Auburn 38 left one second on the clock.
As Griffith lined up, Malzahn decided to swap returner Ryan Smith for Davis. Griffith's missed field goal was Alabama's fourth. Cade Foster missed three.
Kick, Bama, kick?
"We feel like this was meant for us," Ford said.
As Davis chugged down the sideline, some sort of symbolic baton was passed. When asked if this was the greatest win of a still-young career, Malzahn hedged.
"It ranks right up there, there’s no doubt," he said.
It took Malzahn's colorful wife, Kristi -- standing off the side at the postgame press conference -- to mouth the words.
"Just say, 'Yes,'" she said.
Finally, Malzahn concluded without a hint of arrogance, "Indeed it is a new day."
After exactly 24 games as a head coach.
It's a new day in which No. 4 Auburn can make a legitimate claim to a BCS title game. While CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm said it was all but a certainty that Florida State and Ohio State will be atop the BCS standings on Sunday, that will only fuel the national discussion.
Do these blessed but once-beaten Tigers deserve to be ranked ahead unbeaten but clunky-looking Ohio State?
"All I know is," Malzahn said choosing his words carefully, "we beat the No. 1 team in the country."
For only the fifth week in the last 32 in the AP poll, the Tide will wake up Sunday not ranked No. 1. The wind is no longer at their back. For Alabama to get back into the top two both Ohio State and Florida State would have to lose their conference championship games next weekend.
Meanwhile, these Tigers had been every bully’s victim. Their slide to 3-9 (0-8) in the SEC last year was so ignominious that several players were relieved after the 49-0 beatdown suffered to Alabama that ended 2012.
Now they are 11-1, having fashioned six come-from-behind wins. Saturday marked the third time the Tigers have scored in the final 30 seconds when trailing or tied. They are 6-0 in games decided by six points or less.
"When we realize we still have hope everybody else feels like the game is over," offensive tackle Greg Robinson said. "This is another miracle. I don’t know how many God can grant us."
But if Georgia two weeks ago was a miracle, what was Saturday night?
"Lightning Strikes Twice," one Jordan-Hare usher offered.
Except that the storm isn't near over. There's still some celebrating to do. After their team rolled Alabama, Tigers fans retreated to Toomer's Corner for some rolling of their own.
"This was supposed to happen," defensive tackle Nosa Eguae said. "This is fate. We were home last Christmas. Now we're playing for the SEC championship."
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