Newton leads No. 2 Auburn to improbable 28-27 win

Posted Nov. 26, 2010, at 6:20 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 26, 2010, at 9:08 p.m.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Cam Newton ran around Bryant-Denny Stadium with a hand over his mouth, having hushed up those who might have thought his shot at the national title was done, along with the Heisman Trophy.

He’s very much on track for both, thanks to his most audacious performance yet in this season of triumph and controversy.

No one had ever rallied a team to victory over Alabama after trailing by 24 points. That’s just what Newton did Friday, leading No. 2 Auburn to a stunning 28-27 triumph that kept the Tigers in the thick of the BCS championship race and might have swayed any Heisman voters who had their doubts about voting for a guy hounded by unsavory allegations.

Newton threw for three touchdowns against the ninth-ranked Crimson Tide. He ran for the other score. And a day that started like Auburn might be headed for a staggering blowout ended with No. 2 taking a victory lap around Alabama’s hallowed home field.

“Cameron Newton is physically and mentally as tough as I’ve ever seen,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “Period.”

When Auburn fell behind 24-0 in the first half, it looked as though all those turned off by the prospect of Newton hoisting the Heisman and national championship trophies after his father was accused of seeking a huge payout might not have to worry about it.

Both awards, it seemed, were slipping away.

Not so fast.

Newton again rallied a team that has trailed in eight of its 12 games, leaving the crowd of 101,821 in disbelief. 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: the biggest comeback in school history.

Newton had a 1-yard TD run and 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 Southeastern Conference championship game against South Carolina. If Auburn wins that one, the reward will certainly be a berth in the national title game.

“That’s the kind of team we have,” Zachery said. “We never give up.”

Auburn (12-0, 8-0 SEC) 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.

Newton’s day started with a rendition of “Take The Money And Run,” blaring over the loudspeakers during pregame warmups, and he got off to a very shaky start along with the entire team.

Rattled? No way.

Love him or deride him as a tainted star, Newton certainly has no peer on the field. It’s unlikely that anyone in the country could lead a team back from such a daunting deficit in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama had won 20 in a row.

Then again, the Tigers have come back time and time again this season, overcoming double-figure deficits three other times. This was their best one yet, their best one ever.

“That was a game that will certainly go down in history,” Chizik said. “It’s hard to come back when you’re down 24-0 against anybody.”

Newton didn’t do much on the ground, rushing for 39 yards and taking plenty of big hits, including four sacks. But he’s no slouch with his arm, either. He completed 13 of 20 for 216 yards, including a gutsy fourth-down throw to Darvin Adams that kept the winning drive alive near midfield.

Newton, who hasn’t spoken to the media in 2½ weeks, kept up his no-comment policy after the game. He even ran around the field with that hand over his mouth, but it was more of a gleeful gesture to show how he silenced all those Alabama fans. He clearly was hiding a big smile.

The momentous comeback wouldn’t have been possible without some help from the Tide. Last year’s Heisman winner, Mark Ingram, fumbled the ball away at the end of a long run just when it looked like Alabama 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.

McElroy threw for a career-high 377 yards, but he wasn’t able to finish. He left with a concussion after being body-slammed to the turf on a vicious sack by T’Sharvan Bell in the closing minutes.

“We didn’t finish the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “When you play good teams, you’ve got to play for 60 minutes. Those kind of teams don’t go away. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned out there about finishing games and doing things correctly.”

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.

“Words can’t describe it,” Lutzenkirchen said.

Alabama started out like a team that deserved a shot at defending its title, even with two losses.

The Tide scored on its first three possessions, carving up Auburn with McElroy’s pinpoint passes. He completed his first 12 throws, 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 might make it 28-0 when he caught a short pass and broke loose down the sideline.

But Ingram was tripped up, 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.

Alabama then drove to first-and-goal at the Auburn 3, but settled for a field goal after Trent Richardson dropped a sure TD pass.

Jeremy Shelley kicked another field goal in the second half after Auburn fumbled a punt — then 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.

Someone in the stands threw fake money at Newton as he trotted back toward the locker room for final preparations.

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, pumping his fist for the small contingent of Auburn 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.

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