McCollough: Auburn’s forgotten miracle

Published 10:11 pm Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It was a play that Auburn play-by-play man Rod Bramblett said would be remembered forever, but yet it was almost completely forgotten about just 14 days later.

Ricardo Louis saved the day against Georgia by hauling in Hail Mary pass from quarterback Nick Marshall, and kept Auburn’s hopes of an SEC title alive. Don’t remember it? It’s ok. Most of the college football world doesn’t either, thanks to Chris Davis and the “Kick Six” to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Troy was at Ole Miss the day Auburn played Georgia, so I made the trip to the plains to take in the next installment of the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.” What unfolded before my eyes during those four quarters of football is something I will never forget, no matter how many returned field goals I see.

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Auburn squandered away a 17-point lead on two different occasions, and Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray led three touchdown drives within eight minutes of one another in the fourth quarter. The last touchdown saw Murray score on a five-yard scramble and just barely eek over the goal line.

After the officials reviewed the play, and upheld the ruling, I heard the collective groan of 83, 000 plus disappointed orange-clad fans.

On the ensuing drive, Auburn looked lost. The Tigers gained only five yards, before being faced with a fourth-and-18 situation with just 26 seconds to go.

Marshall dropped back and heaved the ball downfield, seemingly overthrowing the intended receiver. However, two Georgia defensive backs knocked the ball away from one another, and in to the hands of Louis, who bobbled the ball for a few steps before racing to the end zone as Jordan-Hare Stadium seemingly shook from the foundation.

I didn’t not cheer or scream, because I didn’t care who won. When Louis reeled in the catch, I stood silently and took in the scene around me.

I looked to my right and saw my girlfriend, and Auburn student, and my sister, Auburn alum, jumping up and down hugging one another. I looked up and saw a hundreds, if not thousands, of bright orange shakers raining from the sky as fans in the upper deck tossed them in celebration. I looked to my left to see a college-aged male on his knees in the bleachers, obviously having a religious experience in the middle of the celebration frenzy. I then looked over my shoulder to the club level and witnessed an elderly couple, I would guess somewhere in their upper 70s, with a one arm hug around one another. The woman had her head on the man’s shoulder. The man had his free arm held high with a closed fist. They both had tears in their eyes.

But the game wasn’t over.

Murray then led the Bulldogs down the field and had a chance to win it. The much-maligned Auburn defense came up with a huge stop on the final play, and with it the Auburn faithful were allowed to cheer again.

The folks at ESPN did a Sports Science special on the Prayer at Jordan-Hare, and the results were amazing. The study found that if neither Georgia player had touched the football, it would have overshot Louis by three to four yards.

But when the ball was tipped the trajectory changed, and the ball hung in the air long enough for Louis to make the adjustment and snag it just below his waist.

It is my personal opinion that the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare,” was the more defining play of the Auburn season. Yes, everyone will remember the “Kick Six,” and the stunned look on Nick Saban’s face, but if Davis doesn’t return the missed field goal for a touchdown the game simply moves to overtime.

If Louis doesn’t make the remarkable, some would say lucky, catch, Auburn loses and the Kick Six probably never comes to be.

The play may not be remembered for as long as Bramblett said it would, but there is no doubt for the over 87,000 people packed inside Jordan-Hare Stadium that November night, it was a night and play that will live for decades to come.

Chris Davis might have been the hero of the Iron Bowl, but I feel that Ricardo Louis is the forgotten hero of the wild ride that was the 2013 Auburn Tigers.

Ryan McCollough is a sports writer for The Messenger. He covers recreation, high school and Troy University athletics, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.