AUBURN, Ala. — Only the Iron Bowl could produce two such miracles 10 years apart.
A decade ago, it was the Kick Six that ruined Alabama‘s national championship hopes, and to this day, haunts Crimson Tide fans.
But on Saturday, on the same Jordan-Hare Stadium turf where Auburn‘s Chris Davis raced 100 yards for the winning points after an Alabama missed field goal attempt, the Tide delivered their own version of the Kick Six with a miraculous 31-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal in the final seconds.
What's more, it's a play that kept alive Alabama's national championship hopes. The Tide (11-1, 8-0 in the SEC) have won 10 straight games and face No. 1 Georgia next Saturday in the SEC championship game.
“We've been on both sides of the good fortune and the misfortune, and I've got to admit, we had good fortune,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “But it still comes down to ability to execute. Somebody had an opportunity to make a play, whether it was their punt returner or IB [Bond] in the end zone and whoever was guarding him.
“That's why you play the game.”
Auburn, coming off a dismal 31-10 loss at home to New Mexico State a week ago, outplayed Alabama for much of the game and appeared to be in control. The Tide, trailing 24-20 with just under five minutes to play, were forced to punt. Auburn's Koy Moore was unable to field it, and Alabama's Jihaad Campbell recovered for Alabama at the Auburn 30.
“We've been in those positions all year,” Bond said. “Different people have stepped up all year and made plays, offense, defense, special teams. It doesn't matter. We're never out of it.”
It sure looked that way, though, even after Alabama converted on fourth-and-1 to move to the Auburn 7. The next few plays were a disaster. The Tide lost 18 yards on second down after an errant shotgun snap, and then Milroe was penalized for an illegal forward pass on third down. The loss of down on the penalty left Alabama with one play and 31 yards to go.
“It just came down to trust and never giving up. … We still had time on the clock,” said Milroe, who passed for 259 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 107 yards.
Auburn chose to rush just two defenders, and Milroe had plenty of time. He saw Bond get favorable position on Auburn defensive back D.J. James, and Milroe's pass couldn't have been placed any better.
“I saw IB one-on-one, and I said, ‘We're going to score,'” said Milroe, who calmly removed his mouthpiece and signaled touchdown as he watched Bond come down inbounds with the pass.
As the ball sailed toward him, Bond had similar thoughts.
“It's mine. That's what I was thinking,” he said. “I was like, ‘It's a 50-50 chance, and I'm going to get it.' And I went and got it.”
In many ways, the game was a microcosm of Alabama's season. The Crimson Tide haven't always been perfect, even flawed at times, but they've responded over and over again after being left for dead in Week 2 after the home loss to Texas.
“I think that's the biggest thing this whole football team has done, is to grow from tough times, and I think that's what separates us from a lot of people, is never giving up and the love we have for each other,” Milroe said.
Alabama has trailed in the second half in wins over Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. And in the ugly 17-3 win over South Florida the week after the Texas loss, the score was tied at 3-3 late in the third quarter.
“That's what this team has done over the year, come from behind many times, made plays when we had to make them, whether it was the LSU game in the second half, whether it was the Tennessee game in the second half, whether it was the Ole Miss game in the second half,” said Saban, who has guided Alabama to 13 straight 11-win seasons.
“This game today speaks volumes for the competitive character of these guys and the resiliency they have to keep fighting in the game. It should be a lesson for everybody in life.”
Bond said there was no panic on the Alabama sideline before that fourth-down play. He said it was the same way in the huddle when Milroe simply looked at everybody and said, “Let's go make a play.”
Bond said the name of the play was “gravedigger.” Thanks to some costly penalties and an Auburn running game that cranked out 244 yards, Alabama nearly dug its own grave and went into the fourth quarter trailing 21-20.
“But that's us, we're going to finish the game all the way to the game's over with,” Bond said. “That's who we are, and y'all saw that today.”
For Auburn coach Hugh Freeze and his team, it was a nauseating way to end his first season on the Plains. The Tigers (6-6, 3-5 in the SEC) are still bowl eligible, but many of their fans sat in the stands for several minutes almost in shock after the game ended.
“It really came to those few plays in a game like this,” Freeze said. “But man, there's a lot of hurt in that locker room, and it stinks.”
Saban, always the perfectionist, said his team needs to clean up some things and play with more consistency if Alabama is going to make a postseason push — and that starts with Georgia in the SEC championship game.
“I can't tell you how proud I am of the guys and how good I feel about winning the game,” Saban said. “But as a coach, you always look at things like, ‘How did you play?' because we're going to have to play at a higher level on a more consistent basis if we're going to have success in the future. And that's what you always evaluate.
“That's the reality check that we all have to make.”
The reality for Milroe as he walked out of the locker room and gave his father, Quentin, a bear hug before boarding the team buses is that he will forever be a part of Alabama lore. And that lore could only grow larger and more legendary from here.
Saban said Milroe's progress has “transformed our team and our offense.”
Milroe said he would soak up the moment, at least for the time being.
“I'll never forget this game … ever,” said Milroe, his big smile matching the magnitude of a play they won't forget anytime soon in Tuscaloosa.