Alabama’s remarkable, modern-day national-title run clashed with Auburn’s destiny, and Auburn’s destiny won.
How else to explain what fourth-ranked Tigers pulled off Saturday in beating top-ranked Alabama 34-28 on yet another unimaginable play?
How else to explain the review that put one more second on the clock, just so Adam Griffith could miss a 57-yard field goal short and Chris Davis could return it from the back of Auburn’s end zone to prevent overtime? It was the fourth such play in NCAA history.
How else to explain the four field goals Alabama missed or saw blocked, a fact that just might earn this Iron Bowl the moniker Kick Bama Kick?
How else to explain the comeback from deficits of 21-7 and 28-21 just two weeks after Ricardo Louis reeled in Nick Marshall’s tipped bomb to beat Georgia and set the stage for this battle for the SEC West Division?
Or Auburn’s comeback at Texas A&M, including that brief-but-enough time Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel was out of the game with a bum shoulder?
If ever there was a team of destiny, it’s 2013 Auburn, and the 11-1 Tigers, a year removed from going 3-9, are destined for Atlanta and this week’s SEC Championship.
Seriously, give this Auburn team one second, and it will take 109 yards.
“We’ve come a long way in 365 days,” Auburn first-year coach Gus Malzahn said.
Yes, give a no-nonsense coach like Malzahn enough amazing endings, and even he will indulge in nonsense.
“Just say yes,” wife Kristi Malzahn said during the postgame news conference, after her husband hesitated to bite on whether he had just witnessed the biggest win of his career. “Just say yes.”
“Probably so,” he said, drawing laughs from the room full of reporters.
According to Davis, Auburn’s latest man of the hour, Malzahn has another way of explaining it to his team in private.
“Coach always says, if you’re living right, and you’re around the right people, good things will happen,” Davis said.
Since Malzahn arrived in December, there must be a lot of right living going on in Auburn’s camp -- in the most football sense.
Auburn has certainly hoarded its share of luck, but the Tigers have been good and lucky.
The Tigers won that strength-on-strength matchup between their running game, the SEC’s best, and Alabama’s run defense, also the SEC’s best. Auburn mounted 296 rushing yards, becoming the first team to pass 200 against Alabama since Georgia Southern in 2011.
Running back Tre Mason rushed for 164 yards, and Marshall added 99.
Breaking: Malzahn’s system works, even against a Saban/Kirby Smart-led Alabama defense. And to think Gene Chizik, Malzahn’s former boss, ever abandoned it.
Malzahn also made a lot of good decisions along the way to earning his luck, including the crucial calls he made Saturday.
With the final two minutes running down, he called six straight running plays up the middle to set up Marshall’s game-tying, 39-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates.
Malzahn said he and Marshall noticed Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones biting up. They settled on a play that springs from the read option/screen option the Tigers had been running.
Marshall ran to his left, forcing Alabama to bite up and defend either a Marshall run or screen to Coates. Coates took off and ran behind Alabama’s defense.
Then Malzahn made the call of his life on special teams, opting against the block on Griffith’s kick and placing Davis in the end zone for a potential return.
What happened next was pure, 2013 Auburn destiny meeting with good planning.
Davis caught the ball and took off down the home sideline. Alabama had mostly linemen on the field to protect Griffith, and the Tide’s field-goal team didn’t fan out enough.
Davis had but one player to beat and beat Alabama punter and holder Cody Mandell on the sideline.
Just like that, “Marshall To Louis” gave way to “Davis Goes The Distance” in Auburn lore.
Just like that, Alabama’s run for a third straight national title and fourth in five years stopped.
Just like that, the team that’s already made the biggest turnaround in the country has a shot at an SEC title and, with help, a Bowl Championship Series national title.
Is it destiny for BCS No. 4 Auburn to win in Atlanta and, perhaps, see No. 3 Ohio State lose to Michigan State in the Big Ten final?
At a time when a Wall Street Journal columnist called for Auburn to spare the nation another Alabama championship, is it destiny for enough poll voters to fall in love with the compelling story that is this Auburn team?
After what we’ve seen from Auburn this season, it sure seems the D-word fits. It’s gotten the Tigers this far.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.