TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The mischievous sound operators at Bryant-Denny Stadium tried to establish a theme for No. 9 Alabama's game with No. 2 Auburn on Friday during warm-ups. When embattled Auburn quarterback Cam Newton took the field, the songs Take the Money and Run and Son of a Preacher Man filled the speakers, not-so-subtle reminders of the NCAA's investigation into Newton's recruitment. One fan even tossed fake money in Newton's direction.
But the junior fired the final salvo, almost single-handedly erasing a 24-point Alabama lead to guide the Tigers to the biggest comeback victory in the university's history.
The outcome — Auburn 28, Alabama 27 — reaffirmed Newton's status as the leading contender for the Heisman Trophy, as he led Auburn (12-0, 8-0 SEC) to perhaps its most scintillating victory in the 75-year history of the Iron Bowl.
"Cameron Newton is as physically and mentally tough as anyone I've been around," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
Newton, who hasn't spoken to the media in 2½ weeks, maintained his silence afterward. But he ran around the field with a hand over his mouth, more of a gleeful gesture about silencing the Alabama fans while also masking a smile.
Newton's latest star turn came in front of a hostile crowd of more than 100,000, with the national title, the Heisman and an undefeated season in the balance. The elephant in the stadium was the NCAA investigation into allegations that Newton's father solicited a six-figure payment during his recruitment.
Newton completed 13 of 20 for 216 yards and three touchdowns, an outcome that left Alabama officials scrambling through the record books to see if the Crimson Tide had ever squandered a lead so big. (They could not find one.) He also rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown.
"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."
"I think this is by far the best game Auburn has had in years, maybe in a century," linebacker Josh Bynes said.
Coming back has been nothing new for Auburn, which has done so in eight of its 12 victories this season. But none will be sweeter thanks to Newton's four touchdown drives, including a final 7-yard pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen early in the fourth quarter that provided the final score.
Of Newton's three touchdown throws, the most notable was a 70-yarder early in the third quarter to Terrell Zachery that turned a rout into a game.
Complementing Newton's latest performance was Auburn's defense, which did not allow a second-half touchdown. Alabama (9-3, 5-3) gained only 67 offensive yards in the second half.
What began as a day that looked as if it would open the door for either Boise State or TCU to play in the BCS title game ended with Auburn reaffirming its spot as one of college football's top two teams.
Alabama led 21-0 before Auburn registered its initial first down. Tide quarterback Greg McElroy established his career high in passing yards by intermission. McElroy completed his first 10 passes and went 19-of-23 for 335 yards in the first half. But he left just before the half after a hit by T'Sharvan Bell and later was diagnosed with a concussion.
"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."
Alabama led 24-7 at halftime, but on Auburn's second play of the second half, Newton threw deep for Zachery. Alabama safety Mark Barron appeared to have a chance either at the interception or a big hit. He got neither as Zachery caught the ball and kept on going for the touchdown that cut the deficit to 24-14.