By John Zenor
The Associated Press
AUBURN, Ala. — Alabama’s championship hopes collapsed under a flurry of missed kicks and opportunities and one utterly improbable final play.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide, seemingly invincible at times this season, wound up losing 34-28 to No. 4 Auburn on Saturday when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 100-plus yards for a touchdown on the final play.
As a result, Alabama (11-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) won’t get a chance to make history with a third straight national title. In fact, the Tigers (11-1, 7-1), not the Tide, will play for the SEC title in Atlanta.
“We told our team that this is like March Madness,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “Coming into this game that if you want to keep playing in the tournament you have to keep winning.”
And presumably, the Tide is eliminated. Though strange things happen in college football at this time of year.
Davis caught the ball about 9 yards deep in the end zone after freshman Adam Griffith’s 57-yard attempt fell short. He then 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 Southeastern Conference).
“I knew when I caught the ball I would have room to run,” Davis said. “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.”’
The Tide several times seemed poised to continue its run toward the first three-peat in modern college football, but couldn’t put the Tigers away.
The Tigers put it away just when overtime was on tap.
The public address announcer in the stadium had already declared the game 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 Saban a chance to try the long field goal — and now he probably wished he never did, given the stunning result.
“It was a great game,” Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said. “Sometimes luck just isn’t on your side.
“It’s one of those crazy plays. It’s almost like a video game. That’s something you do on Madden or NCAA. It’s just a wild play.”
The entire field looked like a sea of orange shakers as the celebration continued long after the climactic finale of one of the biggest Iron Bowls in the bitter rivalry’s 78-year history.
It lived up to the billing — and then some. According to NCAA records, it was only the fourth time that a missed field goal was returned for 100 yards, with LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. doing it against UAB early this season.
This finale even one-upped Auburn’s last-gasp win over Georgia two weeks earlier. A deflected 73-yard touchdown pass from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis dubbed “The Immaculate Deflection” with 25 seconds left set up only the second Top-5 Iron Bowl matchup and first since 1971.
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