AUBURN, Ala. — The “Immaculate Deflection” lasted exactly one game as the most stunning, most impossible play of Auburn’s ridiculously impossible season.
With the Iron Bowl tied 28-28 and one second left before overtime or a crushing Auburn loss, Chris Davis caught Adam Griffith’s missed field goal attempt deep in the end zone and returned it 109 yards for a touchdown. And in the process, he returned the No. 4 Tigers to the SEC championship game with a 34-28 “did this really just happen?” upset of No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.
Davis was credited with a 100-yard return, per NCAA rules — not that any of the thousands of fans on Pat Dye Field at Jordan-Hare Stadium cared about statistics. All that mattered was that their Tigers had completed the most astonishing turnaround in SEC history, and quite possibly ruined Alabama’s quest for a third consecutive national championship in the process.
“You know, the way we won the last two weeks is really unbelievable,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Our guys believed and they had weathered the storm. They backed us up and I think they missed a field goal and we held them on fourth down. Then the offense steps up, the defense steps up, special teams stepped up, and it’s been a special year so far.
“It’s not over with yet, but it’s a huge win. Our program is going in the right direction, and I really like coaching our kids.”
Understandably, Alabama coach Nick Saban was stunned.
“That was not a great way to lose the game, especially for a team I have such tremendous respect for,” Saban said. “It is my responsibility. I think our coaches did a great job this year. We just did not make the plays when we needed to make them on third and fourth down today to get a chance to win.”
Moments before Davis’ return, Auburn fans booed when officials reviewed running back T.J. Yeldon’s run and determined that he stepped out of bounds with one second left on the clock.
Saban summoned Griffith to replace kicker Cade Foster, who had missed three field goal attempts earlier, including one that was blocked with 2 1/2 minutes left and the Crimson Tide leading 28-21.
That’s when the craziness began. Malzahn waited until it was absolutely necessary to pull out the surprise play. It worked beautifully.
The play looked like another quarterback keeper by Nick Marshall on the read-option. That’s what Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones thought. As Jones left Sammy Coates to stop the run, Marshall pulled up and threw a pass to Coates, who was completely uncovered.
“When I saw Nick’s arm start to come up to throw, my eyes got real big because I knew I was wide open,” Coates said.
The 39-yard touchdown pass and extra point by Cody Parkey tied the score 28-28 with 32 seconds left in regulation.
The finish was even more amazing than the one against Georgia, when Marshall’s pass on fourth-and-18 was deflected by Josh Harvey-Clemons and caught by Ricardo Louis for the winning touchdown with 25 seconds to play.
Yeldon gained 23 yards on a draw play as the clocked ticked down to 0:00. But the officials reviewed it and determined that Yeldon went out of bounds with one second left.
At first, Auburn was going for the block, But Malzahn called timeout and put Davis deep. As Malzahn prepared the team for overtime, Coates interjected, “No, Chris is going to take it back.”
“They had too many big guys on the field,” Coates said. “Chris was just too fast for them.”
A huge stop by Auburn late in the third quarter and early in the fourth left the score tied 21-21. The Tide had driven from their 1-yard-line to the Auburn 11.
But Jermaine Whitehead broke up a pass in the end zone and Auburn held on two more plays to force a field goal attempt. But Foster’s kick was wide left and Bama came up empty after driving 83 yards on 14 plays.
The Tigers scored on their first drive of the second half to tie it 21-21 after being down by 14 points in the second quarter. Marshall found C.J. Uzomah from 13 yards for the touchdown.
Alabama had a hard time with Auburn’s hurry-up offense, as only one play on the drive was shorter than six yards.
It appeared that the Crimson Tide would blow the game open in the second quarter when Yeldon’s 1-yard touchdown run gave Alabama a 21-7 lead with 3:48 left in the half.
But Tre Mason ripped off runs of 8, 40, 10 and 6 yards, and suddenly the Tigers were at the Alabama 17.
After a 1-yard run by Mason, Marshall ran 15 yards around left end to the Alabama 1. The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but after a review it was determined that Marshall stepped out of bounds at the 2 while trying to extending the ball over the goal line.
It didn’t matter. Mason plunged in for the score to make it 21-14.
Alabama came out strong to open the game, with Yeldon nearly breaking a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, but Robenson Therezie dragged him down after a 31-yard gain.
Auburn was able to force a field goal attempt, which was wide left.
The Tigers nearly scored on their first possession, but Marshall overthrew a wide-open Ricardo Louis. However, Auburn did score on its second possession when Marshall kept on a read option and scored from 45 yards.
Alabama tied it in the second quarter on a 3-yard pass from AJ McCarron to Jalston Fowler.
Landon Collins then forced and recovered a fumble by Mason, setting up Alabama’s second touchdown, a 20-yard pass from McCarron to Kevin Norwood.
NOTES: QB Nick Marshall’s touchdown in the first quarter gave Auburn its first lead over Alabama since the 2010 victory. … Auburn already clinched the biggest turnaround in SEC history with six conference victories after going winless last year.
New Hampshire 45, Lafayette 7
At Durham, N.H. — Sean Goldrich tossed two touchdown passes and Nick Cefalo returned a punt 86 yards for a touchdown as the host Wildcats cruised to victory in the opening round of the FCS playoffs.
Goldrich (15-for-30, 267 yards) connected with wideout R.J. Harris on eight occasions for 173 yards and a touchdown. Dalton Crossan had a rushing and receiving score and Nico Steriti and Chris Setian each rushed for a touchdown for New Hampshire (8-4), which visits fifth-seeded Maine (10-2) on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Alfond Stadium in Orono. The Wildcats posted a 24-3 triumph over the Black Bears last week.
Making its nation-best 10th consecutive FCS postseason appearance, New Hampshire got off on the right foot as Steriti raced to the pylon to score from 1 yard out. Shane McNeely’s sack of Drew Reed forced a fumble nearly six minutes later and Harris scored on the ensuing play with a 22-yard curl route along the left sideline.
Crossan used a nifty move to extend into the end zone to cap a 17-yard score with 12 seconds remaining in the first quarter before Cefalo put the game out of reach early in the second. The junior gave New Hampshire a 28-0 lead after shuffling through the first wave of tacklers on a punt return before bolting up the right sideline for a touchdown.
Blake Seafoss connected with Mike Duncan on a 6-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter for Patriot League champion Lafayette (5-7), which rebounded from a 1-5 start to make the tournament.