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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn loses fourth straight Iron Bowl after last-minute Alabama touchdown

Payton Thorne walks off the field in a somber moment following the 2023 Iron Bowl
Payton Thorne walks off the field in a somber moment following the 2023 Iron Bowl

With just under five minutes left, Auburn was poised to get the football back up by four with a chance to run out the clock and win the Iron Bowl for the first time since 2019.

But a muffed punt from Koy Moore never gave Auburn that chance.

Instead, Alabama retained possession. After recovering the muffed punt, Alabama was still faced with a third-and-20, but Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe used his legs to pick up 19 yards. One play later, the Crimson Tide converted a fourth-and-1.

But Auburn still had another chance to put away Nick Saban and the Tide.

A wild snap on second-and-goal from the 8-yard line flew by Milroe’s legs, and he dove on the ball 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage. On the next play, an illegal forward pass from Milroe pushed the Crimson Tide back another 5 yards to set up a seemingly impossible fourth-and-goal from the 31-yard line.

Alabama called a timeout which was followed by an Auburn timeout before one of the most improbable endings in Iron Bowl history occurred. Milroe took the snap on fourth down, and Auburn elected to rush just two passers. The Alabama offensive line easily took care of Auburn’s two rushers before Milroe punished the Tigers with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Bond against Auburn cornerback D.J. James.

The touchdown eventually became the game-winner as Auburn fell to Alabama in the 88th edition of the Iron Bowl 27-24.

“Really proud of our kids and the way they fought, prepared,” said head coach Hugh Freeze. “But obviously it stinks to not get the win, and we didn’t play good enough in the critical moments. Had a turnover… and then obviously, didn’t execute fourth-and-whatever it was there… but man, it’s a lot of hurt in that locker room and it stinks.”

Freeze defended the decision to not blitz Alabama on fourth-and-goal, citing that he wanted the vision of his players to be better.

“I mean you can second guess it, you just got to play with vision,” Freeze said. “And we got nine guys back there and just play with vision and make a play on the ball and knock it down and you know, [James] felt like he was shoved off but I couldn’t tell.”

While Auburn did not pull out the win, it used big days from running backs Jarquez Hunter and Damari Alston, and a huge game from wide receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson to play the Tide close. 

Hunter recorded 93 yards rushing for 6.6 yards per carry while Alston had a career-high 85 yards and one touchdown as the Tigers as a team ran for 244 yards.

Alabama entered the game 27th in the country in rushing defense, allowing just 117.9 yards per game.

Johnson got in on the running fun with a 12-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and had a 27-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, both scores serving as go-ahead touchdowns.

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Johnson was Auburn’s leading receiver with four catches for 76 yards and one touchdown and was the only Tiger who recorded more than one reception.

While Auburn had big games from that trio, the Tigers could not overcome the big day from Milroe, who finished with 366 total yards and two touchdowns. Outside of the game-winning touchdown, Milroe also had a long touchdown throw in the second quarter when he hit Jermaine Burton for a 68-yard touchdown.

“(Milroe) has great speed,” said Auburn linebacker Eugene Asante. “... he’s certainly somebody that proved himself today man and congratulations to Alabama on a hard-fought win.”

After the loss to Alabama, Auburn officially finished the regular season 6-6 in Freeze’s first season on the Plains – a one-win improvement from the 2022 season. Auburn now awaits to see what bowl game it will go to, which it will find out on Sunday, Dec. 3.

Jacob Waters | Sports Editor

Jacob Waters is a senior majoring in journalism. From Leeds, Alabama, he started with The Plainsman in August, 2021.

Twitter: @JacobWaters_

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