AUBURN, Ala. — When it ended, Alabama football players galloped across the field, gesturing mockingly at the stunned Auburn fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn players trudged toward the locker room. Some took a knee and bowed their heads. Others stood still, staring up at the sky.
The Tigers had contained No. 3 Alabama for nearly four quarters. They generated pressure on Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young. They gave up few yards on the ground. They held the Alabama offense to just 68 yards in the first half.
And yet, Alabama, with a Heisman Trophy favorite at the helm of its offense and one of the most successful coaches in college football history on its sideline, overcame a horrendous 59 minutes of offense, coming from behind to defeat Auburn, 24-22, in quadruple overtime.
After No. 5 Michigan upset No. 2 Ohio State earlier in the day, Alabama was poised to move up a spot in the college football playoff rankings ahead of next week’s Southeastern Conference title game against No. 1 Georgia.
A new N.C.A.A. rule instituted at the beginning of the season altered overtime proceedings: If a game reaches a third overtime, teams are required to alternate two-point conversion attempts until someone wins.
Auburn, which had the ball first in overtime No. 4, failed to convert the two-point attempt. On the ensuing Alabama possession, Young found receiver John Metchie III working against cornerback Roger McCreary, who had antagonized Alabama’s receivers all afternoon, for the go-ahead walk-off score. It was the first overtime game in the Iron Bowl’s 128-year history.
“Most of the time, I remember the ones we lose. But I think I’ll remember this one because of the way the players competed in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
With 1:35 left in the fourth quarter, Young led the Crimson Tide on a 97-yard scoring drive, capped by a 28-yard touchdown throw to receiver Ja’Corey Brooks, giving Alabama its first touchdown of the day and tying the game at 10.
After the game, Metchie III, who caught a 22-yard pass on the scoring drive told reporters that the players said little in the huddle beforehand.
“Not too much had to be said. We knew what we had to do,” Metchie III said. “We do it every day in practice. We prepared for this. It’s what we do. For the toughest situations, the toughest plays, it’s what we’ve prepared for.”
The two teams swapped scores in the first three overtimes, first with a touchdown catch by Alabama receiver Slade Bolden. A touchdown pass from Auburn quarterback TJ Finley to Landen King came next. The second overtime ended with two made field goals, then a pair of two-point conversions in the third extra period.
The Crimson Tide, the nation’s second-highest scoring offense, were held scoreless through three quarters in regulation.
Alabama’s first points of the game came in the fourth quarter, with 8:44 left, after defensive back Josh Jobe intercepted a high pass by Finley, giving the ball to the Alabama offense.
Brian Robinson, Alabama’s bell cow running back who had been bottled up during most of the game, ripped off a 38-yard run on the next play. But the Auburn defense never deviated from the game plan that had yielded success: Win the battle at the line of scrimmage and give Young little time to get the ball to his receivers.
Young, who had broken Alabama’s single-game passing record against Arkansas the previous week, took his seventh sack of the game on third-and-goal, forcing a field goal.
The sophomore quarterback, besieged by rushers and a raucous Auburn crowd for most of the day, finished with 317 yards on 25-of-51 passing, two touchdowns and an interception.
He had lost his best weapon in the first half, when Jameson Williams, the Alabama receiver who leads the team in receiving yards (1,218) and touchdowns (13), was ejected for targeting with nine minutes left in the second quarter. He had 43 of Alabama’s first 50 yards.
Williams’s ejection, one of many uncharacteristic Crimson Tide penalties (11 total), gave Auburn the ball at the Crimson Tide 39-yard line and led to the Tigers’ first score of the game: a 15-yard touchdown catch by receiver Kobe Hudson.
Right after Williams was ejected, Saban talked to the other the offensive players on the bench. And in their leading receiver’s absence, the Crimson Tide leaned on Metchie III, a junior who led Alabama’s receivers on Saturday with 13 catches for 150 yards.
“It was tough, them doing my boy like that,” Metchie III said of Williams. “But he did a great job of not letting it affect the game, picking everybody up, was on the sidelines with the offense and defense getting everybody going. It’s just the Bama way of the next man up.”
Past Iron Bowl games have shown that thrilling plays are almost to be expected when these two teams meet: the infamous Kick-Six game in 2013; running back Kerryon Johnson’s jump pass in 2017; the pair of pick-six plays on former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in 2019.
This game initially lacked those offensive fireworks. There were 17 combined punts, and neither team established much of a run game, combining for 86 rushing yards.
Auburn, which entered the game allowing over 360 yards per game, seemed to be making all the right plays as the game neared its end.
“We just came up short,” Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin said after the game.