AUBURN — This was a wild one — even by Iron Bowl standards.
In the end, Alabama’s playoff hopes were dashed as Auburn picked up a thrilling 48-45 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium in a game that included everything but a Kick 6.
Alabama’s potential game-tying 30-yard field goal hit the left upright with two minutes left, and the Tide committed a penalty that gave Auburn a first down in the closing minute, preserving the win and sending delirious fans rushing onto the field for the third time in the last four Iron Bowls at Jordan-Hare.
The game featured a 98-yard kickoff return, a 100-yard interception return, a 48-point second quarter and nine lead changes.
With the Tide leading 45-40 in the fourth quarter, Auburn’s Shaun Shivers scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown on a 3rd down and 5, bulldozing through Tide defenders from 11 yards out to put Auburn on top for good with 8:08 on the clock
“We said let’s get to the fourth quarter and we will find a way to win,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “(We did it) in 2013 and 2017 and it kind of held true tonight. The crowd willed us.”
Auburn’s win overshadowed a huge game by Alabama’s Justin Waddle, who scored four total touchdowns, including three receiving scores to go with his 98-yard kickoff return. Najee Harris added 146 yards and a score on the ground for the Tide, which was looking for its sixth straight trip to the College Football Playoff.
Alabama’s Mac Jones, playing for the injured Tua Tagovailoa, completed 26 of 39 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw two costly interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
For Auburn, Bo Nix completed 15 of 30 passes for 173 yards with a touchdown pass. He added a 7-yard touchdown run for the Tigers’ first touchdown in the opening quarter. JaTarvious Whitlow rushed 16 times for 115 yards with a touchdown.
Alabama outgained in yardage (515 to 354) and controlled the time of possession (35:52 to 24:08). The Tide was also hit with 13 penalties for 96 yards while Auburn had nine for 60 yards.
Auburn, which had trouble finishing drives in losses to LSU, Florida and Georgia, scored three touchdowns from the redzone against the Tide. Anders Carlson was also 4 of 4 on field goal attempts, making kicks of 43, 52, 43 and 44 yards.
The game was tied at 10-10 until the 5:36 mark of the second quarter when Auburn’s Smoke Monday returned an interception 29 yards for a score, setting off a barrage of points. Waddle followed with his kickoff return for a touchdown, and after an Auburn fumble, Tide quarterback Mac Jones hit Henry Ruggs for a 3-yard touchdown, putting the Tide up 24-17.
At the 1:06 mark, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix hit Sal Cannella on a 14-yard touchdown strike, but Alabama needed just 33 seconds to respond with Jones hitting Waddle on a 58-yard touchdown pass for a 31-24 lead. Auburn wasn’t done. The Tigers got a first down with 1 second left on the clock and Carlson came through with a 52-yard field goal, cutting the Alabama lead to 31-27 at the half.
“The first half was crazy,” Malzahn said. “They had a lot of momentum swings. The different in the game was the field goal at the half with one second left. That gave us the momentum at halftime. In the second half our guys battled. We hung in there and found a way to win in the end. It was an electric environment. We have the best atmosphere in college football and we proved it again.”
Auburn started the third quarter with 10 straight points. Carlson made a 43-yard field goal and Zakoby McClain picked off a pass at the goal line — that bounced off Alabama's Harris — and raced 100 yards for a touchdown, putting the Tigers on top 37-31. Waddle's second touchdown catch, this one from 12 yards out, put the Tide back on top 38-37 at the 4:57 mark of the third quarter. After Auburn reclaimed the lead with another Carlson field goal late in the third quarter, Waddle scored his final touchdown on a 28-yard reception for the Tide's final points of the day.
On Auburn's final possession of the night, Alabama had forced Auburn into a punting situation on 4th and 4, but was flagged for 12 men on the field, giving the Tigers the first down and the win.
“I really feel that it was a pretty unfair play at the end of the game where they substituted the punter as a wide receiver,” Saban said. “So we put the punt team in. And when the quarterback was back in there, we tried to put the defense back in. I thought they should have given us a little more time to substitute and get (Jaylen) Waddle out as a returner.”
The game was the second-highest scoring Iron Bowl, behind only Alabama's 55-44 win in Tusaloosa in 2014.
With the win, Auburn most likely eliminated the Tide from the playoffs. Malzahn said his team entered Saturday’s game with confidence.
“Our players believe we can beat (Alabama). All the other (teams), for the most part, hope (they beat Alabama). It’s been an up and down season, but we finished on a high note. We’ve got a chance to win 10 games. That’s a real special thing, playing the schedule we play.”