Ranked | These Iron Bowl finales left us breathless

From the infamous kick-six to McElroy’s grueling final drive, these are the plays that Sports Editor Alexander Plant remembers like it was yesterday.

Nick Saban and then-junior quarterback Mac Jones talk between plays during the 2019 Iron Bowl. (Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21)

Arguably the most competitive, entertaining and vigorous rivalry in all of sports, the Iron Bowl has determined six of the last 11 college football national champions. Two of the great blue blood football programs put pride and bragging rights on the line each year to win a single game. It doesn’t matter which team is favored or by how many points, this game almost always comes down to the wire. 

The most entertaining Iron Bowls are not the blowouts, but the games that are decided in the final minutes, possessions or, in a game like 2013, the last play. These four are the most riveting, heart-wrenching and utterly wild Iron Bowl finales in the Saban era. 

2013 – No. 4 Auburn beats No. 1 Alabama 34-28

Auburn fans swarmed when Chris Davis secured the win. CW file

The infamous “kick-six” game. This Iron Bowl was the peak of the rivalry. The game marked the highest-ranking matchup in Iron Bowl history and the ending did not disappoint. After Alabama missed three field goals throughout the game with kicker Cade Foster, Saban put in Adam Griffith to kick the game-winning 57-yard field goal. The kick, as most expected, was well short, but to the astonishment of fans in the stands and on couches at home, Auburn corner Chris Davis caught the missed kick and returned it from endzone to endzone for the win. As soon as Davis scored, fans rushed the field at Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn, leaving Alabama fans completely stunned. 

2009 – No. 2 Alabama fights off the unranked Auburn upset and wins 26-21

Most Alabama fans are familiar with “The Drive,” as it became a hallmark of Nick Saban’s coaching career at Alabama, opening the door for the Crimson Tide’s second chance at a national title since 1992. Alabama had played poorly against an underwhelming Auburn team, which had a new coach in Gene Chizik, Tommy Tuberville’s replacement. However, the Crimson Tide made up for the disappointing performance by winning the game with a late fourth-quarter touchdown. Quarterback Greg McElroy drove Alabama 79 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with 1:24 left on the clock. Alabama went on to win its first national championship of the twenty-first century and “The Drive” became the centerpiece of Alabama’s undefeated season. 

2010 – No. 2 Auburn roars from 24 down and tops No. 11 Alabama 28-27

After securing transfer quarterback and future Heisman winner Cam Newton, the Auburn Tigers were on a path for a national championship. But a disappointed 9-2 Alabama team stacked with NFL talent wanted to ruin the Tigers’ perfect season. The game was completely in Alabama’s control for the entire first half. The Crimson Tide at one point held a 24-0 lead, but Newton would not concede early and the Tigers went on a 28-3 run to top Alabama.

2019 – No. 15 Auburn spoils No. 5 Alabama’s playoff hopes winning 48-45 

Redshirt junior Joseph Bulovas, who has not yet seen any action this season, was just a sophomore when he missed the kick at the end of the 2019 Iron Bowl. (Hannah Saad | @hannah_saad21)

Although the Tigers had a somewhat disappointing season, the team was determined to out-duel the Crimson Tide and squash their chance to get into the college football playoffs. This became the second-highest scoring Iron Bowl in the rivalry’s history and was a preview of the future. Then-freshman quarterback Bo Nix and the young Auburn defense managed to best an Alabama team full of even more NFL talent. The most critical part of the game came down to an Alabama fan’s worst nightmare: a game-tying kick. Most Alabama fans have been aware of the Crimson Tide’s lack of a consistent kicker, but the problem reared its head again as kicker Joseph Bulovas missed a 30-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime. 

Senior quarterback Mac Jones got his first snaps in the historic rivalry last season after star quarterback Tua Tagovaloia suffered a season-ending injury in the Mississippi State game. Jones played well for most of the game, throwing for 335 yards and four touchdowns. However, Jones’s two interceptions came at costly times and contributed to the shortcomings in Alabama’s 48-45 loss to the Tigers last season. 

“Last year’s game was obviously a really good game,” Jones said Monday in a Zoom press conference. “We wish it was the other way around and we could have won, but that was a whole year ago and we’ve moved on from that. But it is a good learning experience. We have to take what we’ve learned and have applied that throughout this year so far, and we just have to continue to do that.”

Jones said he wasn’t impressed with his own performance last year, as he knew that after the game was over, a loss meant he hadn’t done enough. The stats to him are just a “distraction,” Jones added, saying that other players on the team, like senior running back Najee Harris, the offensive line or the many talented wide receivers, deserved more of the credit than he did.

It’s just a huge game that people around here take very seriously. So, since they take it seriously, obviously, we have to take it seriously. I have to take it seriously.

— Najee Harris

“The only stat that matters to us around here is wins and losses,” Jones said. “You can look back at it, and you can have a great game or whatever people want to say, [but if] you lose a game, to me, that’s a bad game. You can throw for one yard or 500 yards, it doesn’t matter. The goal is to score literally one more point than the other team, and last year we couldn’t do that.”

Jones said that the team was going to be precise in its preparation for this year’s Iron Bowl and that the only thing that mattered to the team was getting the win.

“I feel like we’ve done a better job the past couple weeks just not having high expectations and just going out there and trying to do our job one by one,” Jones said. “This year, we’ve worked hard to just do that every game and score more points than the team, and everything else will take care of itself.” 

Like many argue, the Iron Bowl is almost incomparable to any other college football rivalry game. Harris, who is from Antioch, California, showed his true awe and admiration for this rivalry in his Zoom press conference with the media this week.

“I didn’t really know [anything] about any of the rivalries in college football, to be honest with you… especially in the South,” Harris said. “The only thing I know about is the USC-UCLA one. But I come here, and it’s called the Iron Bowl and I didn’t even know [anything] about it. But experiencing my first Iron Bowl freshman year, the environment was crazy. It’s just a huge game that people around here take very seriously. So, since they take it seriously, obviously, we have to take it seriously. I have to take it seriously.”

Since coach Nick Saban has taken over the program, Alabama has changed the course of the Iron Bowl’s history in the 21st century. From 2000 to 2007, Auburn managed to best Alabama in 7 of 8 of their matchups. However, after Saban’s first year, the Crimson Tide is now 8-4 against the Tigers. This year, Saban will not be allowed to coach after he tested positive for COVID-19, but No.1 Alabama is still a 24 point favorite over No. 22 Auburn.