AUBURN — The Auburn players victoriously strolled to the dressing room in single file through the orange-and-blue sea of fans who were celebrating with them on the field.
They passed under the same goalpost that will haunt the Alabama football team after the Tigers’ unbelievable, 48-45 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.
“It’s real special whenever our fans are down there with us,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Auburn is the Auburn family and this game is obviously very important.
“Just happy that we could get this victory for the fans, and they were so huge. I mean, the place was going nuts the whole time; it wasn’t just the fourth quarter.”
A 30-yard field-goal attempt by Alabama’s Joseph Bulovas to tie the game in front of the screaming Auburn student section was hooked and clanked off one of the uprights and down to the turf with two minutes left, but the Tigers still had to run out the clock.
Thanks to an illegal-substitution penalty by the Alabama defense as the clock showed 1:06 remaining on fourth-and-4 at the Auburn 26, the Tigers were awarded a first down and could begin celebrating, with the Crimson Tide being out of timeouts.
“The disappointing thing to me is we came here with the idea of we needed to play with a lot of discipline — not get a lot of penalties and do a great job of executing and doing our job on a consistent basis,” a disappointed Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “People being accountable so that we can get the kind of execution that we like to get, and people make decisions through their discipline that’s going to help the team’s chances of being successful. And I don’t think we did that great.
“We got way too many penalties and put ourselves in some bad situations.”
Alabama was whistled for 13 penalties totaling 96 yards, including three false-start penalties on the Tide’s final drive.
Few coaches have had success against Saban, but Malzahn has held his own. The Auburn coach is now 3-4 against Alabama in Iron Bowl matchups.
“It’s not about me; it’s about our players,” Malzahn said. “Our players believe we can beat them. All other teams, for the most part, hope. I’m just real proud of our players.”
It was the 30th anniversary of Auburn hosting the Iron Bowl for the first time — a 30-20 win in 1989 — and that team was honored on the field before the game.
“The ’89 team — they made this happen,” Malzahn said. “I showed our team about a five-minute video of the ’89 game and just everything that led up to it — how we got the game here and how coach (Pat) Dye and the others got it here.
“So that was real special. We told our team, ‘Let’s honor that team.’ So we did that.”
Saturday’s game was one of the more entertaining Iron Bowl matches in history. The teams combined for 48 points in the second quarter alone, as Alabama took a 31-27 halftime lead.
It would be just as dramatic in the second half as Auburn took the lead with 8:08 left on an 11-yard run by Shaun Shivers and then held on for dear life.
The 93 combined points is the second-highest scoring total in the Iron Bowl, behind the 99 scored in 2014 when Alabama beat Auburn, 55-44.
For Auburn, it was the saving grace of what had been a season of disappointments in big games until Saturday.
For Alabama, it completely dashed any hopes of making the College Football Playoff for the first time since the format was initiated six years ago.
No. 15-ranked Auburn improves to 9-3, while No. 5-ranked Alabama is now 10-2. Both teams now await bowl bids.
The game showcased remarkable individual performances on both sides of the football.
Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle had a superhuman effort with a 98-yard kickoff return and three touchdown catches.
Auburn’s Anders Carlson saved his best game for the Iron Bowl, kicking through four field goals. He even made a 54-yarder that Auburn elected to wave off after Alabama was whistled for offsides, which gave the Tigers a first down.
The game was billed as a game between Alabama’s explosive offense and Auburn’s stout defense, but it became an offensive shootout.
Though Auburn’s defense gave up more points in the first half than it had to any team during the season, the unit did return two interceptions for touchdowns in the back-and-forth game.
Malzahn planned to continue his celebration Saturday night at Waffle House.
“It’s going to be a ham-and-cheese omelet, scattered, smothered, covered and chunked,” he said. “I’m going to get some extra bacon, and I’m going to get an extra waffle too.”