Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Sports

Missed field goal return lifts Auburn over Alabama

AUBURN, Ala. — That crazy tipped pass for a long, winning touchdown is now the second-most stunning and improbable play of Auburn's season.

Yes, the Tigers found a way to top "The Immaculate Deflection."

Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 100 yards for a touchdown on the final play Saturday to lift No. 4 Auburn past No. 1 Alabama 34-28, upending the two-time defending national champions' BCS hopes and preserving the Tigers' own.

Oh, and clinching a spot in the SEC title game as West Division winners.

"We're a team of destiny," Davis said. "We won't take no for an answer."

He delivered a play that deserves its own nickname. Say the Happiest Return. Or saddest, depending on which side of the Iron Bowl you sit.

Davis caught the ball about 9 yards deep in the end zone after Adam Griffith's 57-yarder fell short (Griffith stepped in after Cade Foster missed all three of his attempts on the day). Davis sprinted down the left sideline and cut back with nothing but teammates around him in a second straight hard-to-fathom finish for the Tigers (11-1, 7-1 SEC).

"I knew when I caught the ball I would have room to run," said the senior cornerback from Birmingham, Ala. "I knew they would have big guys on the field to protect on the field goal. When I looked back, I said, 'I can't believe this.' "

Unlike the NFL, in college football such returns count as 100 yards no matter how deep in the end zone the returner is.

The Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1) seemed poised to continue its run toward the first three-peat in modern college football but couldn't put the Tigers away.

Asked if it was the biggest win of his career, Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said: "It ranks right up there." But he said he'd "probably" still celebrate just like he has since his high school coaching days: with a Waffle House meal.

"That's what you coach for, that's what these kids play for, to get a chance to win the SEC championship," Malzahn said.

The Jordan-Hare Stadium public address announcer had already declared it 28-28 at the end of regulation. But Alabama got 1 second restored and one more play after a review of T.J. Yeldon's run to the Auburn 39. That gave Tide coach Nick Saban a chance to try the long field goal.

"It was a great game," Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said. "Sometimes luck just isn't on your side."

According to NCAA records, it was only the fourth time a missed field goal was returned 100 yards, including LSU's Odell Beckham this year against UAB.

"It is my responsibility," Saban said of the loss.

This finale even one-upped Auburn's last-gasp win over Georgia on Nov. 16, a deflected 73-yard TD pass from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis with 25 seconds left.

The result sets up the SEC to, perhaps, miss the BCS title game for the first time since January 2006. No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State, the only unbeatens in the automatic BCS qualifying conferences, are likely to move up to the top two spots today, with each facing a league title game this week. However, with a win in the SEC title game, Auburn could leapfrog into one of the two spots.

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