Another Iron Bowl for the ages — and an Iron Bowl for everyone’s appreciation

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Jason Smith hauls in a prayerful catch at Jordan-Hare in Auburn's loss. (Photo courtesy Auburn media relations)

AUBURN, Ala. (WHNT) – Between Derrick Henry’s remarkable afternoon, Jake Coker’s jailbreak scrambling, another slap-your-forehead prayer in Jordan-Hare, the resolve of an underdog Auburn, perfect weather and intense drama, the 2015 Iron Bowl accomplished something semi-historic.

It basically sent both sides home reasonably happy.

Talk about miracle finishes for an Iron Bowl.

Usually one side leaves madder than Will Muschamp with an overcooked steak. Or with a referee in his grille.

Alabama avoided any sort of upset, but maybe not how anybody would have scripted it. Then again, who on this side of the Coen Brothers could dare script an Iron Bowl these days.

WHNT News 19's new sports commentary segment, Upon Further Review, features Mark McCarter's unique wit and humor.

WHNT News 19’s new sports commentary segment, Upon Further Review, features Mark McCarter’s unique wit and humor.

Alabama fans can celebrate a 29-13 victory over Auburn on a surreal afternoon of big plays and little moments that left both teams deserving of praise – and leaving Alabama with its sixth Iron Bowl win in eight games and a return to the SEC Championship Game next week against Florida.

Auburn fans can celebrate, well, like the woman riding the elevator from the club level seats put it with a sigh:

“Well, at least it wasn’t a blowout,” she offered.

As Gus Malzahn so accurately put it, “Our kids fought their guts out.”

Scaring the bejeebers out of Alabama may be little consolation to the Auburn football team and coaching staff. It was pretty evident Malzahn was not going to let his team play the role of pushover, despite what most – ahem – experts may have predicted.

The Tiger defense got all stubborn when it needed to in the first half, holding Alabama to four field goals. (One of which, natch, Auburn had a potential return man under the goal post.)

To be sure, a couple of those times Alabama’s offense was stymied early because apparently the Tide equipment staff had issued Henry bowling shoes, not cleats. He had two slips on the first possession, forcing Alabama to settle for a field goal, then after a long pass put the Tide in position for another TD, he was knocked backwards and slipped again.

All that said, Henry got himself a pretty good grip on the stiff-arm of the Heisman Trophy, finishing with 271 yards on a ridiculous 46 carries.

Coker pulled a couple of escapes somewhat equivalent to wrestling out of handcuffs while dangling in 40 feet of water, one of them keeping a drive alive, another to connect with ArDarius Stewart for a 34-yard tumbling touchdown reception for a 19-6 lead in the third.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Three plays later, when Auburn needed to respond or avoid a potential blowout, Jeremy Johnson uncorked a rather prayerful long pass to Jason Smith, who was a skosh behind an Alabama defender. Smith tipped the ball … then tipped it again … then finally cuddled it into his arms and dashed 77 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 19-13.

Then came the fourth-quarter late hit that will have the two sides bickering in the chat rooms from now until Lane Kiffin gets a statue in Knoxville. It was borderline as Jake Coker ran out-of-bounds, an Auburn tackler pretzel-ing his legs, another giving a shove.

What wasn’t borderline was the petulant outburst by Muschamp, the Auburn defensive coordinator. Referee Tom Ritter is one of the best in the business. I know him as a good man and a patient referee. He doesn’t want to affect the game. But Muschamp forced him into a situation where he couldn’t not throw a flag.

The 30 yards in penalties set up another Adam Griffith field goal – the fifth on the day – and made it a two-score game. A steep hole from which to climb against one of the country’s best defenses.

Now Alabama is 11-1, showing Super Ball resilience since the Ole Miss loss. Said Nick Saban, “Ever since the Ole Miss game, they’ve had their backs against the wall and responded every possible way that you could ask them to.”

For the benediction to all this, we need to go back 24 hours, to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz after his undefeated team beat Nebraska by eight, “Football’s not gymnastics. There are style points in gymnastics. Here it’s having one point more than your opponent.”

On a national scale, Ohio State, frankly, needed some style points in beating Michigan. There needed to be some proof that the Buckeyes weren’t somewhere more dysfunctional than the Kardashians.

But Clemson – a five-point winner over a weak South Carolina team – would subscribe to the Ferentz philosophy.

So, too, Alabama after coming across an Auburn team that refused to play the role of a pushover underdog.