Oct. 19, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - As Auburn players and coaches streamed into their locker room at Kyle Field on Saturday afternoon, they felt the joy and satisfaction known only to those who have come to a great challenge, met it head-on and emerged victorious.
In a game that will have a place in the long and proud history of Auburn football, the Tigers of 2013 scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to wipe out a 10-point deficit and then turned Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel away in the red zone to leave the happy score, for Auburn folks, in lights.
Auburn 45, Texas A&M 41.
In the locker room, they hugged, they laughed, they cried. They screamed for sheer joy. They sang "War Eagle" at the top of their lungs. It was a victory for the ages.
"Tell them we're back," shouted receivers coach Dameyune Craig, who was once an Auburn quarterback.
Above the happy din, first-year head coach Gus Malzahn called his players to gather around. A year ago they were 1-6. Today, they're 6-1.
"You guys deserve all the credit, and I'm unbelievably proud of you guys," Malzahn told his them. "... We beat one of the top programs in the country on their home field with the Heisman Trophy winner."
For players who suffered last season, who watched Texas A&M romp to a 63-21 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium, it was a moment so sweet as to defy description. Scott Fountain, the tight ends and special teams coach, is the only staff member who survived to coach another day at Auburn after last season's 3-9 record. When time finally ran out Saturday, when Auburn had won, it was an emotional moment.
"Last year, they just ran through us," Fountain said. "I felt like if we could be where we were at the end of the game, have a chance to win, that it would put our program back in the right place. Our kids were going to fight from the get-go. We knew, without a doubt, it was going to come down to the last play of the game, whether it was offense or defense. Our kids were programmed for that."
It wasn't easy. Lord knows, it wasn't easy. Manziel will never give in easily, and he won't let his teammates do it either. He and remarkably talented wide receiver Mike Evans made play after play. It seemed for a time they had made enough, then that they hadn't, then that they had again.
But junior Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, surely silencing his critics once and for all, made play after play, too. Tre Mason ran like an All-American. And perhaps most importantly, Auburn's offense line not-so-politely put a beating on the Aggies' defenders up front.
And there were so many others. Freshman Marcus Davis made a remarkable third-down catch for 27 yards on the final drive, reaching around the defender to snag the ball with one hand.
Marshall directed touchdown drives of 75, 69 an 75 yards in the final quarter:
The defense gave up 602 yards. Most nights that would be cause for concern, but most nights you don't take on Johnny Football. Good defense on this night was holding Texas A&M to fewer points than you got. And the men who play defense for Auburn did it, finally ending it when senior Dee Ford sacked Manziel on fourth down in the final minute.
It was plenty good enough for defensive line coach Rodney Garner, who was an All-SEC Auburn offensive lineman in Pat Dye's glory days.
"It's awesome," Garner said. "This is what I came back to Auburn for, to have an opportunity to help get my program back where it belongs. I am just blessed to be here every day and watch my guys grow and see the growth in these guys from the time we started last January until now. I just couldn't be more proud of the guys. I just know I'm blessed to be in this place and blessed to be their coach."
Just about everybody who has anything to do with Auburn football was feeling good as night fell Saturday. Auburn football, as Craig said, was back.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: