By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
For a second, it appeared the Prayer at Jordan-Hare was going to go Alabama's way.
With 99 yards standing between AJ McCarron and the end zone for the second straight series, the senior signal-caller faked a handoff, shuffled into the end zone and released a higher-than-high-trajectory pass down the right sideline to Amari Cooper, who shed a tackler and jogged past the goal line for a touchdown to give the top-ranked Tide a 28-21 advantage early in the fourth quarter of Saturday's epic Iron Bowl.
The lead didn't hold, however. Auburn proceeded to score two unanswered touchdowns in the final 32 seconds, the latter coming on an unbelievable 109-yard missed field goal return by Chris Davis as time expired.
Lost in the shuffle of the Tigers' late-game theatrics was yet another all-time accomplishment for Alabama's quarterback.
With the 99-yard bomb to Cooper, McCarron took over John Parker Wilson's top spot for career completions at Alabama. Including his 17-of-29 passing performance Saturday, the Heisman hopeful now has a whopping 667 completions, two more than the previous mark.
As if that weren't enough, the 99-yarder also accounted for the Tide's longest scoring play in school history, toppling a 96-yard rushing touchdown by Chris Anderson versus Temple in 1991.
That obviously means its the program's longest touchdown reception, besting a 94-yard scoring strike from Freddie Kitchens to Michael Vaughn against Florida in 1996.
While all those records will surely look nice on McCarron's resume, it's safe to say he would've preferred to walk away from his final Iron Bowl with a win. Instead, the efficient QB scurried off the field with a loss, only his third in three seasons as a starter.
% Just for Kicks: Cade Foster entered Saturday's state rivalry with only one wayward field goal attempt all season.
He left with four total, unfortunate timing for a team with a realistic shot of reeling in its third consecutive BCS National Championship.
The senior kicker was wide left on tries of 44 and 33 yards. His second 44-yard attempt late in the fourth quarter was blocked.
Foster's miss from 33 yards marked was his first from inside 40 in his career. That's quite the feat, but one that likely won't cause much comfort considering just how much was at stake.
The kicking woes clearly affected Alabama's playcalling when the game was on the line. Instead of opting for a short-range field goal to take a two-score lead with 5:34 remaining, Nick Saban and his coaching staff decided to gamble and go for it on fourth-and-1 at Auburn's 13.
It didn't work, keeping the Tigers' deficit at a manageable seven points.
“I do not ever like to say I do not have confidence in our players, but we have been a very good short-yardage team all year,” Saban said. “It did not work out that way. So myself and a lot of other people will probably say that we should have kicked a field goal there, but we had a field goal from that same spot that we missed. You cannot take it for granted that we could have made it. That is the game.
“But it goes back to being able to make plays and execute them in critical situations. We have been a really good short-yardage team, but it just did not work out properly this time.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.