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A spirit that is not afraid

Ashford foreshadows future, Pappoe closes Tigers' season bittersweetly in Iron Bowl loss

Robby Ashford ran until he couldn't anymore, and team captain Owen Pappoe ended his season by snatching a Bryce Young pass out of the air for his first interception this season, but it wasn't enough to prolong Auburn's season in Auburn's third straight Iron Bowl loss.

Young was just too much. The Tigers didn't sack him all game long, and he made them pay with 343 passing yards. After starting 1-for-4, he ended his night 20-for-30 with four total touchdown to put Auburn's hopes of an upset to an abrupt end in No. 7 Alabama's 49-27 win. This ends Auburn's 2022 season at 5-7 (2-6), sixth in the SEC West, without a bowl appearance for the first time since 2012's 3-9 season. 

If this is interim head coach Carnell "Cadillac" Williams' last game as head coach, he went out fighting. He led a 3-5 Auburn team to two SEC wins, a hard-fought overtime rally that fell just short to Mississippi State, but more importantly, he saw self-growth and a turnaround in spirit from early in the season.

"You can be different and do this and be successful," Williams said. "You make it about the kids and truly changing lives. "This process made me a better person. Better husband, father, friend. It's just powerful what you can do whenever you get people serving, believing."

Matching up a redshirt freshman QB with a junior Heisman winner and former national runner-up Alabama, no one gave redshirt freshman Ashford and Auburn a shot. From the beginning, when Ashford bumbled into the end zone for a 7-0 lead, to the end of the 22-point loss, he gave Auburn all he had. 

With 198 all-purpose yards, two rushing TDs and a 20-yard dime in the back corner of the end zone to Ja'Varrius Johnson, he gave the Crimson Tide defense a fit all night long.

Ashford's eight runs of over 10 yards gave him 121 yards on the ground in the contest. Jarquez Hunter added 134 more along with Tank Bigsby's 63 while the trio averaged 7.4 yards per carry. The Auburn ground game proved it can bash any defense against Alabama, but Auburn lost its 10th turnover battle of the season, 2-1. 

After Keionte Scott's muffed punt in the second quarter, Young hit Traeshon Holden, his eighth receiver of the day, for a 27-yard score right past the turned backs of three Auburn defenders.

Alabama went to halftime with a 35-14 advantage after ending the half on a 14-0 scoring run. It opened up the second half with another 9-play, 72-yard drive that running back Jase McClellan capped off by lunging his way into the end zone for his second TD of the day.

But Ashford didn't let a 28-point deficit stop him from bouncing off three tacklers for a 14-yard score, his third of the game. With that stretch across the goal line, he became Auburn's fist rusher with multiple TDs on the ground in the Iron Bowl since Williams did it as a running back in 2003.

"That guy's a fighter," Williams said. "He's going to compete and give you everything he has. He's incredible. One of the best athletes I've ever been around. Ever."

Auburn quarterback Robby Ashford (9) dives to the end zone for a touchdown in the first half against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 26, 2022.

Shortly after, Pappoe jumped in front of Young's second down pass to put a bow on the team captains' junior season. This set up Alex McPherson to knock two final field goals through the uprights and give Auburn 13 unanswered with just over two minutes remaining. But Alabama head coach Nick Saban wasn't going out that way.

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On the night, Pappoe tallied 10 tackled, senior edge Derick Hall had two sol tackles, a tackle for loss and a QB hit, senior defensive back Nehemiah Pritchett tallied four tackles and a share of a tackle for loss, and senior receiver Shedrick Jackson caught two passes for 26 yards. This puts the seniors' and junior team captain Pappoe's 2022 campaign to an end, and the players are happy with how they fought to the end. 

"Not the result we wanted, but I can live with that," Jackson said. "All my teammates out here fighting as brothers. I love all of them. I'll remember this for a long time."

Junior running back Jamyr Gibbs then led the Tide to a quick score on two runs: a four-yarder and then a 23-yarder to cap off his 76-yard game on 17 carries.

Though Ashford and the Tigers fell short of an Iron Bowl win and a bowl game appearance, 24 seniors led this team out with class, Ashford and the young backs gave a sneak peak of what's to come and Williams fought for four weeks through a clock that was ticking on Auburn's ongoing coaching search.

"Auburn is in a better place because of these seniors and the Auburn family," Williams said. "The future is bright, very bright."

Noah Griffith | Assistant Sports Editor

Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.

Twitter: @NoahGG01

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