Time is a valuable thing. One second separated Alabama football from its destiny in 2013.
Mixed signals transpired in the Iron Bowl, when sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon ran out of bounds. Crimson Tide fans pleaded for overtime, as Auburn’s run game had gashed Alabama’s defense. Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban smelled blood, and wanted one last opportunity to seal the deal. Freshman kicker Adam Griffith stood in a tough position.
A 56-yard field stood in between Alabama and a trip to the Southeastern Conference title game. A made 56-yard field goal would have brought fans memories of former kicker Van Tiffin, and triggered the beginning of greatness for Griffith.
Most importantly, a made 56-yard field goal would have given Alabama a chance to repeat as national champions for a third straight year.
The play started in slow motion, but the final result was immaculate. Griffith’s attempt fell short, and Auburn’s Chris Davis stood deep inside the end zone. He returned the missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown and shocked the world.
The Tigers won 34-28, and captured a conference title.It would face Florida State in the 2014 BCS national title game, but came up short 34-31.
The loss ate away at Alabama for 364 days, and the pain was most evident in its 2014 BCS All-State Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. AJ McCarron was its signal caller from 2010-13.
The Crimson Tide would face Auburn the following season, but this time a native Georgian would be under center. Blake Sims embodied every characteristic of an Alabama player.
He was tough, competitive, humble and team-oriented. His career started as a running back, but Sims took on roles as a receiver, defensive back, scout team quarterback and backup quarterback, until he won the starting job over Florida State transfer Jake Coker in 2014.
Sims navigated Alabama to wins over tough SEC opponents, including Florida, Mississippi State and LSU. The biggest game for the former fifth-year senior came inside Bryant-Denny Stadium in late November. Alabama battled Auburn at night in the 79th edition of the Iron Bowl.
If seeing the “Kick Six” live didn’t provide enough motivation, Alabama’s coaching staff had the video playing in the team’s athletic facility during the week of the game. Sims and the Crimson Tide came out aggressive, and ended the first quarter with a 14-6 lead.
Auburn’s quarterback Nick Marshall and wide receiver Sammie Coates got it going in the second quarter. Coates caught two touchdown passes, and Auburn outscored Alabama 20-7.
Two first half interceptions from Sims had Alabama on its heels. Coach Saban motioned for Jake Coker to warmup, but offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin decided to stick with the senior.
Auburn’s defensive back Jonathan Jones was on the receiving end of Sims’s third interception, but what Jones didn’t know was that something huge was about to happen. Instead of getting depressed, Sims collected motivation from his teammates and coaches. He locked himself into a zone, and engineered one of the biggest comebacks in the history of the Iron Bowl.
Alabama’s wide receiver Amari Cooper caught one touchdown pass in the first half, but Sims went to his valve in the third quarter. He hooked up with Cooper for a 73-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 36-27. The Crimson Tide’s defense forced a turnover on Auburn’s next possession, as fifth-year senior Nick Perry intercepted Marshall’s pass at the 46-yard line.
Sims and the offense went back to work with a short field, and six plays later, Sims runs in for an 11-yard touchdown. Alabama connected on its two-point conversion, cutting Auburn’s lead to 36-34. The Crimson Tide would put together two more touchdown drives, but the latter stuck a dagger in Auburn. Alabama went on a 6-play, 92-yard drive that ended on a 25-yard touchdown run from Derrick Henry.
Running back Corey Grant scored a touchdown from five yards out, but the damage was too much for Auburn. Sims would total four touchdowns in the second half, delivering Alabama to a 55-44 comeback win in the highest scoring Iron Bowl in history.
Amari Cooper ended the game with 224 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 13 catches.
He would go on to receive the 2014 Fred Biletnikoff Award (nation’s top receiver), and the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Year Award. Cooper finished third in the Heisman race, behind Wisconsin’s running back Melvin Gordon and Oregon’s quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Alabama faced Missouri in the 2014 SEC title game the following week. Sims set a record for the highest completion percentage in a SEC Championship Game, 85.2 percent.
He completed 23 of 27 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama captured its 24th conference title, by defeating Missouri 42-13. It loss to Ohio State in the 2015 Sugar Bowl, but Alabama wouldn’t have made it to the College Football Playoff, if it didn’t beat Auburn.
Alabama’s 2014 team believed in itself and its coaching staff. Blake Sims defied all odds, and Amari Cooper was a game changer. It matchup against Auburn gave fans a bird’s-eye view of how resilient this team was. The Crimson Tide was not going to be denied a second time against the Tigers, and despite falling behind in the second half, Alabama found a way to win.
Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.