TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Cam Newton took an improbable victory lap around Bryant-Denny Stadium, savoring his most audacious performance yet in this season of triumph and controversy: leading Auburn back from 24 points down against the defending national champs.
One more showing like that, and it's Newton and the second-ranked Tigers who'll be getting a shot at the title.
Newton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, keeping Auburn on track for a shot at the BCS championship game with a stunning 28-27 victory over No. 9 Alabama on Friday.
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Auburn (12-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) trailed 21-0 before it even picked up a first down, and Alabama (9-3, 5-3) had a 314-2 lead in total yards when things looked especially grim for the Tigers.
But Newton, with another signature performance in this season that has no equal on the field, rallied the Tigers from a 24-0 deficit to leave the crowd of more than 101,000 in disbelief when it was over. Well, except those orange-clad faithful crammed into one end of the stadium amid all the crimson, celebrating a win no one could have seen coming just a couple of hours earlier.
Newton threw scoring passes of 36 yards to Emory Blake, 70 yards to Terrell Zachery and, finally, a 7-yarder to Philip Lutzenkirchen with 11:55 remaining that gave Auburn its first lead of the day.
It held up, keeping the Tigers perfect heading to next week's SEC championship game against South Carolina. If Auburn wins that one, the reward will certainly be a spot in the national title game.
Newton also had a 1-yard TD run, and this may be the performance that locks up the Heisman Trophy - if allegations that his father sought a huge payout for the quarterback to sign out of junior college don't weigh too heavily on the voters' minds.
Certainly on the field, Newton has no peer.
It's unlikely that anyone in the country could lead a team back from such a daunting deficit at Bryant-Denny Stadium, where Alabama had won 20 in a row. Newton didn't do much on the ground, rushing for just 39 yards and enduring plenty of big hits in the backfield, including four sacks.
But Newton showed he's no slouch with his arm, either, completing 13 of 20 for 216 yards.
The improbable comeback wouldn't have been possible without some help from Alabama. Last year's Heisman winner, Mark Ingram, fumbled the ball away at the end of a long run just when it looked like the Tide was about to blow the Tigers all the way back to the Plains.
Another fumble, this one coughed up by quarterback Greg McElroy after a big hit by Nick Fairley - and recovered by Fairley - cost the Tide another scoring chance deep in Auburn territory near the end of the first half.
Alabama still led 24-7 going to the locker room, but yet another miscue probably hurt the Tide most of all. On Auburn's second play of the second half, Newton threw a deep pass for Zachery down the sideline. Alabama safety Mark Barron came racing over and appeared to have a chance either at the interception or a big hit on the receiver.
He got neither. Barron actually got to the receiver a little early and slid by him. Zachery came down with the ball and kept on going for the touchdown that cut the deficit to 24-14.
The comeback was on. The Tigers never slowed down.
Alabama, last season's national champion, started out like a team that deserved a shot at defending its title, even after losses to South Carolina and LSU.
The Tide scored on its first three possessions, carving up Auburn with McElroy's pinpoint passes. He completed his first 12 passes, including a 68-yard touchdown to Julio Jones and a 12-yard scoring toss to Darius Hanks. Ingram started things off with a 9-yard TD run, and it looked as though Ingram had a shot to make it 28-0 when he caught a short pass and headed down the sideline.
But Ingram was tripped up a bit, began to stumble and, while trying to keep his balance, had the ball punched out from behind by Antoine Carter at the 19. The ball rolled all the way to the back of the Auburn end zone, where Demond Washington fell on it for a touchback.
The comeback didn't start immediately. Newton finally completed a pass, and Auburn finally picked up its initial first down on the next play. The Tigers then punted it away again, and Alabama drove to first-and-goal at the Auburn 3. The Tigers defense finally stiffened, benefiting from a dropped pass by Trent Richardson that should've been a TD.
Alabama settled for Jeremy Shelley's 20-yard field goal.
That would be it for the Tide, other than another field goal by Shelley after Auburn fumbled a punt.
It was time for the Cam Newton Show.
No matter what, he figured to be the center of attention. Newton has been under scrutiny since reports emerged alleging his father, Cecil, tried to sell the quarterback's services for as much as $180,000 when he was being recruited out of a Texas junior college.
Alabama certainly didn't resist taking a poke at Newton. When he came on the field for pregame warmups, the loudspeaker blared "Take The Money And Run." When Newton trotted back toward the locker room, someone threw fake money at him.
He appeared to take it all in stride, leading the Tigers onto the field as he always does just before kickoff and running all the way to the far end of the field, where a small contingent of Auburn fans was surrounded by Alabama fans.
Then the game began, and for the better part of two quarters it looked like a total rout for the home team.
At the end, though, Newton was the one celebrating.
|AL||Mark Ingram 9 yd run (Jeremy Shelley kick)|
|AL||Julio Jones 68 yd pass from Greg McElroy (Jeremy Shelley kick)|
|AL||Darius Hanks 12 yd pass from Greg McElroy (Jeremy Shelley kick)|
|AL||Jeremy Shelley 20 yd FG|
|AUB||Emory Blake 36 yd pass from Cam Newton (Wes Byrum kick)|
|AUB||Terrell Zachery 70 yd pass from Cam Newton (Wes Byrum kick)|
|AUB||Cam Newton 1 yd run (Wes Byrum kick)|
|AL||Jeremy Shelley 32 yd FG|
|AUB||Philip Lutzenkirchen 7 yd pass from Cam Newton (Wes Byrum kick)|
|Third Down Efficiency||4-13||3-12|
|Fourth Down Efficiency||2-2||3-4|
|Kick Return Yds||107||62|
|Punt Return Yds||-8||0|
|Time of Poss.||26:59||33:1|
|AUB: Onterio McCalebb 8-50, Cam Newton 22-39, Michael Dyer 9-27, Team 1--3, Terrell Zachery 1--5|
|AL: Mark Ingram 10-36, Trent Richardson 10-24, Julio Jones 1-12, Marquis Maze 1-7, Greg McElroy 8--10|
|AUB: Cam Newton 13-20-216-0|
|AL: Greg McElroy 27-37-377-0, A.J. McCarron 0-4-0-0|
|AUB: Emory Blake 3-39, Terrell Zachery 2-79, Kodi Burns 2-32, Darvin Adams 2-29, Onterio McCalebb 2-24, Philip Lutzenkirchen 1-7, Mario Fannin 1-6|
|AL: Julio Jones 10-199, Darius Hanks 5-39, Mark Ingram 4-91, Preston Dial 3-26, Trent Richardson 3-9, Marquis Maze 2-13|
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