There are a lot of words that could describe the 35-31 loss to Auburn at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday night.
Agonizing fits. Heartbreaking, certainly. Demoralizing, sure.
But the best way to sum it up is one word: brutal.
"When you see your young men put so much into this game and then see the hurt when they lose, it is really tough when you felt like you played well enough to win it," said Coach Hugh Freeze. "I'm very proud of these kids and the way they faced adversity."
Two times in the final seven minutes the Rebels had a pair of opportunities to go ahead, but QB Bo Wallace fumbled inside the Auburn five around the six-minute mark and then WR Laquon Treadwell fumbled going in for a score inside the 2-minute mark on a play where he broke a bone in his lower leg.
"That was about as brutal as an ending could be. A great player going in to score gets hit from two different angles and fumbles going in and then we lose the game and him most likely for the year. Brutal, just brutal," said Freeze.
In a back and forth battle, the team that blinks, usually doesn't win.
It's hard to call what the Rebs did as "blinking," but they had two very solid chances and didn't finish what they had worked so hard to attain with the rally-ending loose balls. Two beautiful drives were nullified at the very end, with the promise land inches away.
"We had our chances, there is no doubt, but when you get chances like we got, you have to capitalize. That's the bottom line," said Wallace. "I was fighting for extra yards and just did not secure the ball the way I should have. Quon was fighting to get in the end zone and just got mauled near the goal line and coughed it up. His was forced by a great defensive play.
"That doesn't make it any easier. This one is hard to swallow. We put our hearts into it and felt the whole time we were going to win, but we just didn't finish."
What wasn't brutal, but shocking, considering the first eight games of the year, was the way Auburn moved the ball on the Rebels. At times, it was almost at will.
The Tigers scored 35 points, amassed 507 yards and had control of the ball for nearly 33 minutes.
"Auburn has great athletes and a great scheme. I can't say I am totally surprised with the way they moved the ball, but I am a little surprised they scored that much. I think two of the big plays of the game were a third down when (Nick) Marshall scrambled and got a first down on a third and long and they went on to score and then the long TD before half. Two completions were prayers they threw up and their big receivers made plays. We usually make those plays," Freeze added.
The Tigers use a lot of motion, shifts and sometimes unbalanced lines to get defenders looking at the wrong things, thus messing up their fits. DC Dave Wommack was disappointed the Rebs got fooled on some of those looks.
"We just didn't seem to have our eyes in the right places in some key situations and that caused us to fit things improperly," he said. "That means our guys were not coached well enough. That's on me. We just have to go back to the drawing board and get it right."
So where does that leave the Rebels?
That too is brutal.
Without a lot of help from several different angles, and that's assuming they win out, there will be no trip to Atlanta and certainly no trip to the final four playoffs.
A tough pill to swallow after a 7-0 start and with the realization they could just as easily be 9-0 versus 7-2.
Now the task at hand is for the team to grasp there is still a lot to play for. For a few days, they won't want to hear that logic any more than the fans will, but when the totality of the situation sinks in, this team could still finish with double digit wins and a high national ranking in the program's third year.
There's something to be said for that, even if there will be some lingering remorse of what could have been.
And while the outcome of this game was brutal, what added to the brutality was watching one of the great kids, great teammates, and great players - Treadwell, go down in such a painful way.
He was lifted on the cart with tears streaming down his eyes, obviously in a lot of pain after the lower part of his leg was secured in an air wrap. Just as the cart was about to exit the field, the Auburn crowd erupted.
The go-ahead touchdown he thought he had scored, was signaled a TD and actually put on the scoreboard had been overturned by the review process.
Brutal, just brutal.
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