In the previous 85 Iron Bowls, Auburn and Alabama were able to duke it out and decide a winner within the allotted 60 minutes of game time.
That changed on Saturday in the 86th Iron Bowl, with Alabama coming back from being down 10-0 in the fourth quarter to steal a 24-22 victory over Auburn in four overtimes.
“Expect to have yourself in a position in the fourth quarter to be able to win the game,” Auburn coach Bryan Harsin said. “We had those opportunities. I was proud of our guys, I told them that. I’m proud of their fight, disappointed in the loss.”
The game was dominated by defense, with the Tiger defense sacking Alabama quarterback seven times on the day. Alabama was held scoreless until nearly midway through the fourth quarter, with a 30-yard field goal finally ending the shutout for the Crimson Tide.
“That was the best I’ve ever seen my team play in for four quarters,” defensive back Roger McCreary said.
The Auburn defense stepped up once again late in the fourth quarter, forcing a turnover on downs after stopping Alabama running back Trey Sanders in the backfield – one of the three stops on fourth down for the Auburn defense on the afternoon. McCreary had one of his four pass breakups of the game before the fourth down play.
“Don't get too hyped, don't get too low: just focus,” said McCreary of the message between him and his teammates while holding Alabama at bay. “... It was just the whole environment on the sideline. Everybody started with the same energy and went to the end with the same energy."
The defensive stop gave Auburn the ball back with 1:56 remaining, but Alabama had two timeouts. After a loss on first down, running back Tank Bigsby bounced the ball off of the left tackle in a move to try and gain extra yards. While the run gained 10 yards, Bigsby made a crucial mistake – he went out of bounds.
“I think Tank is a hard runner, he was fighting for every yard, every inch,” said quarterback T.J. Finley of his teammate’s running attack. “... I do believe he tried to go down at the end, but it was too late once he got to the sideline.”
Auburn failed to convert for a first down on the ensuing play, and was forced to punt back to Alabama. The Crimson Tide proceeded to drive down the field with only 1:32 remaining on the clock and no timeouts, tying the game on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Young to receiver Ja’Corey Brooks.
“You come down to the wire like that and you don't finish, it hurts,” EDGE Derick Hall said. “It sucks. It’s painful”
The touchdown forced overtime, and the last-minute touchdown was a momentum swing for the visitors. Alabama scored on all four of its overtime possessions, including the game winner after Auburn failed to score on its two-point conversion attempt.
“I saw the front side safety, he tried to jump (Shedrick Jackson),” said Finley of the final offensive play for the Tigers. “I’ve just got to throw a better ball to the back of the pylon and allow (Jackson) to make a play.”
Finley, who started his second game at Auburn on Saturday and injured his ankle in the loss, stepped up to take responsibility for the final play not working in Auburn’s favor.
“I take all the criticism for that play,” Finley said.
All in all, the loss dropped Auburn to 6-6 in Harsin’s first year, and marked the third straight game where they held a double digit lead and lost. It’s difficult to compare this game with the other two, as the Tigers holding a 10-0 lead into the fourth quarter over the No. 3 team in the country into the fourth quarter seems to sting just a little bit more.
“Alabama is a really good football team,” Harsin said. “They showed that again tonight. They’ve got a lot of fight. They made plays at the end of the game. They made one more play than we did. That’s the reason why they won it.”