Smiling Seniors Lead AU to Victory Over Bama

Auburn got its 10th win of the season and the seniors made some history on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--It wasn't a work of art, but it was a beautiful sight for Will Herring, Tim Duckworth and the rest of the Auburn seniors.

No, Auburn's 22-15 victory over Alabama was far from a masterpiece on offense. The same could be same about Auburn's defensive effort.

However, there was nothing wrong with the heart of Auburn's seniors who rallied from behind in the first half and again in the second half to finish their regular season with a 10-2 record.

They were also able to put five fingers in the air to celebrate their fifth straight victory over their archrival, tying the school record set by Shug Jordan's powerhouse teams from 1954-58.

It was also the 40th victory for Auburn's seniors, making them the winningest class in AU history.

"This means a lot to me growing in Opelika as an Auburn fan being a part of this senior class and being able to say we have never lost to Alabama," said Herring, who led the Tigers with eight tackles along with fellow senior Karibi Dede, who was also in on eight stops.

It was Herring who stepped up and made a crucial fourth quarter play after fellow senior Kenny Irons lost a fumble in Tide territory with the Tigers nursing a one-touchdown lead.

On the next play Herring stripped the football from receiver Keith Brown that was recovered by redshirt freshman Sen'Derrick Marks, the tackle's second recovery on a day in which the Auburn defense forced three fumbles and senior cornerback David Irons iced the game with an interception on Alabama's desperation final possession of the game.

"This game means a lot to us," Duckworth said. "The defense and offense came together. With this team I never worry about getting down because we have been down before and know how to come back. I wish we wouldn't have gotten behind, but it is very, very satisfying to win this game on this field. I am glad that one day I can tell my kids that I was on the Auburn team that beat Alabama every year I played."

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said he was disappointed the Tigers aren't going to reach their goal of playing for the SEC title, but said he was thrilled for the seniors going out in style with the win at Alabama. He said he was particularly proud of the group for winning 10 games with two of its key playmakers, Kenny Irons and Courtney Taylor, battling through injuries all of the season. Taylor, who suffered a hamstring injury in practice, tried his best to play vs. the Tide, but wasn't mobile enough. Taylor was able to go for just two plays.

Tuberville said he enjoys being associated with his players. "It just fun to know you can go home and sleep at night knowing you have good guys on the team and we are recruiting the right type of players. We would like to get a couple of more playmakers, which I think we have in the younger guys coming that we redshirted. As we were looking this week, there are probably some guys we probably should have played who would have made us better, but in the long run it is going to make just much tougher and that much more harder to handle as time goes."

Auburn won the toss and took the opening kickoff and moved the ball to midfield on the running of Kenny Irons, but punted on fourth and three at the Tide 43 into the end zone.

Alabama took over at its 20 and held the ball 11 plays. The big gainer was a 21-yard receiver reverse by D.J. Hall that gave the Tide a first and goal at the Tiger three. However, three runs left the ball more than a yard shy of a touchdown and the Tide settled for a 24-yard field goal by Jamie Christensen after tackle Marks made a stop on third down.

Both teams exchanged three-and-outs offensively and then Auburn did it again on its last possession of the first quarter.

It was the defense that helped the Tigers take the lead. In a flashback to last year's game, the Auburn pass rush came up big.

Junior defensive end Quentin Groves pillaged and sacked Tide quarterback John Parker Wilson, who fumbled the ball at his own 22 where Auburn senior linebacker Kevin Sears recovered the ball.

It took the Tigers just four Brad Lester running plays to score on a 12-yard sweep of right end. He followed blocks from Carl Stewart and Duckworth into the end zone giving Auburn a 7-3 lead with 11:12 left in the second quarter.

Another second quarter sack by Groves set up Auburn's second touchdown. Dede recovered the fumble at the Alabama eight. On the next play Kenny Irons raced in for a touchdown with 9:39 left in the half. John Vaughn had to make a PAT from 35 yards after an unsportsmanlike penalty on center Joe Cope, but the senior kicker came through to make the score 14-3 with 9:39 left in the half.

Alabama moved the ball on its next possession, but stalled at midfield and punted the Tigers back to their own one-yard line.

Brandon Cox then went for a long pass to James Swinton that was incomplete. On second down he threw an out route to Rodgeriqus Smith for his first pass completion of the game to give the Tigers third and one. Stewart got two yards up the middle.

Quentin Groves was a big play man for the Tigers with two forced fumbles.

Auburn steadily moved the ball into Tide territory with the running game, but an illegal procedure penalty on Tommy Trott, a dropped pass by Trott, a run and an incomplete screen pass try to Lester fell incomplete.

Auburn then made a tactical error on fourth down at the Tide 36. Instead of punting the ball deep, Tuberville called on Vaughn to make a 53-yard field goal. The attempt was short and right. Bama made Auburn pay for that three plays later on third and 10. Tuberville noted that Vaughn had been making them from that distances in warmups.

Wilson then caught the Tigers in a safety blitz and hit Nikita Stover, who beat David Irons for a 53-yard scoring pass play with 1:55 left in the half. Tristan Davis was called for roughing the passer on the touchdown. The Tide took the penalty and decided to go for a two-point conversion, but Jonathan Wilhite intercepted the pass.

Alabama continued its late momentum from the second quarter by driving 80 yards on 11 plays thanks to converting key third downs on the passing of Wilson. The Tide quarterback got the final 13 yards on a pass to Travis McCall that wass ruled a touchdown, although it looked like he bobble the ball before landing out of bounds. That put Bama up 15-14 and once again Bama went for a two-point conversion and failed as Parker threw an incomplete pass under pressure.

Auburn then drove the ball from its own 11 to the the Tide 47, but stalled there. The teams exchanged punts before the Tigers got the football back for the winning drive.

Cox got it started with a 37-yard wheel route pass to Carl Stewart to the Tide 17. After an illegal procedure penalty, an incomplete pass and a Lester run that was stopped for no gain, wide receiver Prechae Rodriguez was the go-to guy on third and 15.

"I had one on one coverage and Brandon threw the ball right on target," Rodriguez said. "It feels great to finally get my first touchdown this season. That was a good time for it."

Auburn then decided to go for the two-point conversion. Stewart tossed a perfectly executed running back pass to wide receiver Lee Guess and Auburn led 22-15 with 1:28 left in the third quarter.

After forcing a three-and-out, the Auburn defense found itself back on the field after Auburn's only turnover of the game, a fumble by Kenny Irons at the Tiger 40.

However, on the next play Herring forced the fumble and Auburn got the ball back at its own 30.

Auburn again couldn't move and Bama put together its last serious threat, moving from its own 11 to the Tiger 13. However, Auburn's defense made its second stand of the day.

Tide coach Mike Shula originally called for a field goal, but after using a timeout to avoid a delay penalty, that left Alabama with just one timeout. Shula called the offense back on the field and went for it. However, the pass was incomplete and Auburn took over at its 18 with 5:09 to play.

Lester, who had been injured earlier in the game, rushed for nine yards and three to burn valuable time. Auburn punted the ball back to Bama, which took over on its own 41 after a 22-yard return by Javier Arenas before Herring made the tackle.

Two plays later, cornerback David Irons, who was burned in the second quarter for a touchdown, wrapped up the victory by intercepting Wilson and the celebration was on for the Tigers.

Although Irons got hit above eye with a flying water bottle by an irate Tide fan as he left the field, he was still smiling after he got treatment and talked about his final regular season game as an Auburn player.

"This is a great way to finish," he said. "Yes, it is."

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