Tigers Fall to Tide in 4OT Thriller

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photo by robert noles / the observer

Harsin Proves He Belongs in SEC

By Wil Crews
Sportscrews@opelikaobserver.com

The Alabama Crimson Tide completed a 10-point comeback over the Auburn Tigers with a four overtime, 24-22, victory Inside of Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.

The Tigers led for nearly all of the game until Alabama quarterback Bryce Young marched the Tide offense 97 yards in 12 plays, taking 1:11 off the game clock and tying the game at 10-10 with 0:24 remaining.

The rivals then traded field goals in the first overtime period — and touchdowns in the second. The Tigers’ offense took the field to begin the third overtime and failed to convert a two-point play as quarterback T.J. Finley underthrew a receiver in the back of the end zone. The Tide took the field needing just three yards to win the first overtime Iron Bowl in history and Young found receiver John Metchie on a quick out route to win the game.

Young was held in check for much of the contest by an Auburn pass rush that registered seven total sacks. The Tigers’ pressure forced Young to throw his first interception in 227 passes as the Heisman hopeful quarterback finished 25-of-51 for 317 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating (QBR) of 66.4 (averages 86.7).

In his second start of the season, Finley was noticeably hobbled with an ankle injury for much of the second half. With no other trusted options to turn to, the towering sophomore performed valiantly, and finished 17-of-26 for 137 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a QBR of 49.4.

Not for a lack of trying, both offenses labored to run the ball in the contest. The Tide totaled 94 yards on 30 rushing attempts as the Auburn front seven — backed by a ruckus-infused crowd — had its best performance of the season. The Tigers, however, only managed 64 yards on 32 carries. Auburn’s inability to run directly at the defensive line — something that has been a problem all season — consistently stunted momentum for the Tigers.

Still, however, when Auburn goes back and looks at the tape, they will see multiple missed opportunities to win the game. None will be more pointed out than Tank Bigsby running out of bounds on the Tigers’ final offensive possession of the game. The play stopped the dwindling clock and resulted in a failed third-and-two play on the next snap, giving the ball back to Alabama with precious seconds left needlessly on the clock.

Despite losing impact receiver Jameson Williams to a targeting call early in the game, the Tide found pay dirt for the first time all night and forced overtime.

The mayhem of the new overtime rule then ensued and Auburn blew a lead for the third time in four games. Shamefully, one of the loudest crowds in recent memory left Jordan-Hare in disappointment.

Amidst the letdown, however, the Tigers and their fans can hold their heads high. Auburn did fall to a mediocre 6-6 on the season, but its performance was anything but mediocre on Saturday.

Coming into the week, Auburn looked like a regressing team with its back against the wall. Instead of fold in the face of the uninspiring recent results, the Tigers gave the thousands in attendance a show well-worth the price of admission.

The defense held one of the most prolific Alabama offenses in the Saban-era to a pedestrian day. Members of the offense and special teams stepped up in big moments — whether it be Kobi Hudson’s 16-yard second quarter touchdown, walk-on kicker Ben Patton nailing a 49-yard field goal in the first overtime or the backside throw-and-catch from Finley to tight end John Samuel Shenker in the third overtime.

The much-scrutinized defensive coordinator Derek Mason proved — in my opinion — he deserves another year to build on what 2021 has accomplished. And although it may have come up one or two plays short, Auburn put fear into the hearts of Crimson Tide fans and went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country.

It was the kind of performance that embodied the romanticism of college football to the fullest. More importantly, it’s a showing that will build momentum for the Tigers heading into a bowl game and the offseason.

In short, first-year head coach Bryan Harsin and his staff needed an Iron Bowl like this. We all did. Although a win would have boosted the Tigers further, the game will be remembered for generations and the greatest rivalry in all of college football earned that mantle Saturday night. 

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