Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall (14) is brought down by Georgia Bulldogs linebacker Ramik Wilson (51) during the first half at Jordan Hare Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Shanna Lockwood)
On a day that determined the final four teams in the race for the SEC championship, two in each division, the national focus was on one play Saturday, a play that likely will be talked about for years to come.
It happened in the closing seconds of Auburn’s game with Georgia. The Tigers pulled out a 43-38 victory with a touchdown pass that will go down with Doug Flutie’s desperation throw to Gerard Phelan that gave Boston College the win over Miami, and Kordell Stewart’s 64-yard pass to Michael Westbrook to give Colorado the victory at Michigan, as one of college football’s most memorable plays.
Especially considering the stakes. The win means Auburn will be playing Alabama at home on Nov. 30 for the Western Division title and has to rank right up there in Auburn history with the “Punt, Bama, Punt” Iron Bowl of 1972 when the Tigers blocked two Alabama punts for touchdowns in the final 10 minutes to pull out an unlikely 17-16 victory.
To set the stage: Auburn had just blown a 20-point fourth quarter lead and was trailing by one point after Georgia scored with just over a minute to go. With 36 seconds remaining, the Tigers were facing fourth down at their own 27-yard line when quarterback Nick Marshall reached back and threw the ball as far as he could.
Georgia’s Josh Harvey-Clemons was in line to pick off the pass, but as he leaped for it his teammate, Tray Matthews, who also had his eye on an interception, bumped into him and the ball bounced off Harvey-Clemons into the air behind them.
Auburn’s Ricardo Louis, who had kept running, hauled in the deflection in stride, bobbling it just a bit, and took it into the end zone for the touchdown.
“At first I was going to try and jump for it,” Louis said, “but they took the angle, so I just kept my eyes on the ball over my shoulder and watched the ball all the way in.”
“It was special, no doubt,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
The play even drew a comment from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who was over 275 miles away coaching his Gamecocks to a win over Florida in Columbia.
“What a game that was, good gracious, a sort of Hail Mary-ball that went ricocheting around,” Spurrier said. “I guess that’s why people watch football on television, games like the one they had.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team was eliminated from contention in the Eastern Division with the loss, was more subdued.
“Just a whale of a game I guess,” he said.