AUBURN (AP) -- Carnell Williams opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown run and finished with 204 yards in Auburn's 28-23 victory over Alabama on Saturday night.
Williams came into the game with only five carries in the past two Iron Bowl games because of injuries, but gave the Tigers (7-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) a lift.
They blew most of an 18-2 halftime lead against the Crimson Tide (4-8, 2-6) before holding on in a game between two teams equally desperate for a win.
The Iron Bowl matchup held little of its usual allure outside the state, with the teams entering with a combined 12 losses for the first time in series history.
It wound up providing plenty of drama that included Williams' 80-yarder on the first play from scrimmage and a 96-yard kick return by Alabama's Brandon Brooks to start the second half.
Williams had to score the decisive touchdown twice. He juked a defender and darted 27 yards into the end zone but a receiver was called for holding at the 5. Three plays later, he leaped over the goal line from the 1 with 7:27 left to make it 28-16.
The Tide added Brodie Croyle's 14-yard touchdown pass to Lance Taylor, who bobbled and caught a ball in the end zone that had deflected off Triandos Luke with 1:03 left.
Alabama didn't get another chance, recovering the onside kick before it traveled the required 10 yards.
The Tide, which had only crossed midfield once before its final drive, stayed alive with four huge plays by Croyle.
He had a 22-yarder to Ray Hudson on fourth-and-7, a 26-yarder to Dre Fulgham on second-and-18 and a 26-yarder to Hudson on third-and-21. The score came on third-and-goal.
Tuberville trotted off the field pumping his fists, culminating a disappointing regular season with a win over the Tigers' chief rival. The smallest man on the field nearly pulled the Tide back into it.
Brooks' return ignited a Tide team that was bullied in the first half on both sides of the ball.
The 5-foot-4 Brooks, who had only one kick return this season entering the game, twice juked defenders and won the footrace from there.
It was the first time either team had returned a kick the distance in an Iron Bowl since 1969.
Shaud Williams cut it to 18-16 with a 6-yard touchdown run to cap an eight-play, 82-yard drive on its next series.
Auburn answered with John Vaughn's 32-yard field goal and was driving again on its next series. Then, Jason Campbell threw his second interception in the end zone, this one picked off by Charles Jones.
Carnell Williams' long touchdown on the first play was the team's longest gainer of the season. School officials also believed it to be the first time Auburn has scored on its first play from scrimmage since 1957.
He rushed 26 times a week after only tallying two first-half carries in a loss at Georgia. An offense that couldn't move the ball early in that game produced 519 yards and a balanced attack against the Tide with an array of big plays.
Campbell finished 18-of-27 for 270 yards with a 64-yard touchdown pass to Ben Obomanu in the first quarter and two others that would have been scores but for a drop and an unforced fumble.
The Tide totaled 291 yards. Croyle was 13-of-29 for 180 yards with two interceptions and the touchdown.
Anthony Bryant tackled Carnell Williams for a safety on his second carry for Alabama's only score of the first half.
Shaud Williams, the league's No. 1 rusher, gained 93 yards on 18 carries. The other Williams is right behind him.
Alabama was trying to join Georgia and Florida as the only visitors to ever win three straight at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The visiting team had won the past four games in the rivalry.