Drew Tate threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway on the final play Saturday, a miracle ending that denied Saban a triumphant sendoff to the NFL. Instead No. 11 Iowa stunned No. 12 Louisiana State 30-25 in the Capital One Bowl.
"You always dislike losing a game, especially losing a game like this," said Saban, who will become the Miami Dolphins' coach next week.
Making the finish all the more improbable: Fifth-year senior Holloway scored the first touchdown of his career.
"It really hasn't hit me yet," he said. "Maybe in a month or so."
His score capped a wild fourth quarter and spoiled a comeback by the Tigers, who overcame a 12-point deficit with 8½ minutes left.
Freshman JaMarcus Russell came off the bench to spark LSU's rally, throwing two touchdown passes to Skyler Green. When they connected for a 3-yard score, the Tigers led 25-24 with 46 seconds to go.
After Tate completed two passes, a penalty pushed Iowa back to its 44 with 14 seconds left. Tate wound up and threw long to Holloway, who was left open because of busted coverage. He caught a strike in stride at the 10 and dashed to the end zone as time expired.
"I though I overthrew him," Tate said. "Once Warren caught it, he wasn't going down."
When Holloway scored, Saban threw up his arms in frustration, then watched the entire Iowa team stage a mob scene in the end zone.
"The last 14 or 20 seconds of this game somewhat tarnish the things that this team has accomplished in its four years," Saban said. "I only feel badly that I could not do more to help the players play better. ...
"Mental errors are a terrible way to lose, because that means the other guy didn't really physically beat you. You really beat yourself."
While Saban heads for the NFL, Iowa fans are glad coach Kirk Ferentz has turned down overtures from the pros. The Hawkeyes (10-2) won their eighth game in a row to reach double digits in victories for the third consecutive year under Ferentz.
Four of their wins have been by a total of 11 points.
"I don't know if you could write a better script," Ferentz said. "Nobody would believe it if you did."
Aside from the fourth-quarter rally, LSU (9-3) struggled on offense and looked sloppy on special teams playing one week after Saban announced his resignation. He finished 48-16 in five years with the Tigers, leading them to a bowl game every season and to the BCS national championship in 2003.
Walking toward the exit after the game, Saban doubled back to wave to fans, who responded with modest applause and a few boos.
"This has probably been the best experience I've ever had as a coach -- the five years I spent at LSU," he said. "Call them golden years or whatever for me. I hope they were good years for everyone else."
Saban said he would fly back to Baton Rouge with his team and head for Miami on Tuesday. The Dolphins (4-11) conclude their worst season since the 1960s on Sunday at Baltimore.
LSU, which rallied in fourth quarter to win four times during the regular season, came back again after Iowa took a 24-12 lead with 12:48 left.
Russell -- Saban's third quarterback of the game -- capped a 74-yard drive by hitting Green with a 22-yard scoring pass. The Tigers quickly forced a punt, and this time Russell moved them 69 yards for a one-point lead that lasted until the final play.
While Tate and Holloway were the heroes, special teams were the difference. LSU had two punts blocked, missed a 40-yard extra-point kick after committing two penalties, and came up short when Saban faked a 39-yard field-goal attempt.
The late fireworks came after both offenses sputtered for much of the game.
Aside from a 74-yard touchdown run by Alley Broussard, the Hawkeyes bottled up LSU's potent running attack. And Iowa totaled just three first downs in the opening first half but led 14-12 thanks to two big plays.
The Hawkeyes scored on their first possession by burning a blitz. Clinton Solomon caught a short pass over the middle from Tate, shook off a defender and sprinted to the end zone for a 57-yard score.
Iowa struck again 64 seconds before halftime on Miguel Merrick's blocked punt. Sean Considine scooped up the ball at the 7 and scored for a 14-6 lead.
LSU answered on the next play with Broussard's long run. He swept right, cut back, found an opening and scored on the Tigers' biggest gain of the season.
Iowa mounted scoring marches of 60 and 72 yards in the second half. The first drive ended with a 19-yard field goal by Kyle Schlicher, and Marques Simmons' 4-yard touchdown run made it 24-12.
But LSU's comeback left the Hawkeyes scrambling in the final seconds.
"We were playing for a field goal, needless to say," Ferentz said. "But nobody is complaining about the way it turned out."