AUBURN, Ala. — Dusk was falling upon Jordan-Hare Stadium. The final player to leave the field was Georgia tight end Brock Bowers. Auburn Tigers had walked off somberly, knowing they had a historic victory in their grasp but let it slip away. Happy Georgia Bulldogs bounced through the northeast tunnel to the locker room, a pocket of red-clad fans shouting their support.

Coach Kirby Smart already had made his way off the field Saturday, hugging staff and family, mugging for a photo and stopping to salute the Georgia fans by the tunnel. In this moment, the concerns raised in the Bulldogs’ error-plagued performance could wait.

Finally came Bowers, the rare tight end accorded the distinction of an on-field TV interview. He had earned it, hoisting his top-ranked team upon his shoulders and making play after play, the last a 40-yard catch-and-run touchdown reception with 2:52 remaining in the game to rip out Auburn’s heart and secure a 27-20 win. He walked off in the golden light, a truly surpassing day of play behind him.

In two-plus seasons, the young man from Napa, California, has firmly established himself in the pantheon of all-time Georgia greats. But this was a peak moment, and even the humble Bowers acknowledged it.

“I always see it on TV and stuff,” he said. “It’s just kind of like a dream come true, just being able to do that for my team.”

He continued, ever willing to share the spotlight that deservedly was cast upon him Saturday.

“There’s so much going into it, all the other dudes doing their job and everything like that, too,” he said.

Bowers’ damage Saturday – eight catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. He seized the game over Georgia’s final three drives (not counting the game-ending kneel-down possession), dominating it like a five-star prospect in a high-school game.

With play-calls from offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and deliveries from quarterback Carson Beck, Bowers controlled the game as Georgia fought back from an unexpected 17-10 third-quarter deficit.

Near the end of the third quarter, his 29-yard reception set up the game-tying touchdown (a run play in which he sealed off a path for running back Daijun Edwards to score from 13 yards out).

On Georgia’s next drive that began at its 9-yard line with 14:34 to play and the score tied at 17-17, Beck looked for Bowers on the first play of the possession, a 37-yard pass play that pushed the Bulldogs away from danger and the din of the Auburn student section. He converted a third-and-9 with a one-handed catch for 28 yards and a defensive back draped on him. He made another one-handed catch on the next play that was wiped out by a penalty. Georgia finished the drive with a field goal to go ahead 20-17.

“I don’t know,” Bowers said of the one-handed catch. “It just kind of happened that way. I don’t really mean to, I just stuck my hand out. It just happens.”

It was the product of a gifted athlete whose work ethic and determination are unrivaled. In the preseason, tight ends coach Todd Hartley said of Bowers that he not only possessed extreme talent but also was the hardest worker he had ever met. The melding has resulted in two first-team All-American selections in his first two seasons as a Bulldog, last year’s John Mackey Award as the top tight end in the country and a secure future in the NFL.

An NFL scout at the game interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution offered two assessments of Bowers – “damn good” and “clutch.” Assuming Bowers declares for the draft after the season, the scout projected him to be a top-15 pick.

“He’s everything that you want, really, in a player,” he said. “Especially nowadays. The kid works his (expletive) off, and he’s very, very dynamic.”

With the score tied at 20-20 and the Tigers bringing blitz pressure on a drive that began at the Georgia 25 with 6:21 left, Beck looked to Bowers for the two biggest plays of the drive, a 16-yard reception to convert a third-and-12 and then the game-winning score in which Bowers lined up in the left slot, ran about 12 yards downfield, cut in and inexplicably was open for an on-target delivery from Beck. Bowers ran across the field, slipping through two tackle tries on his way to the goal line and, if he wants them, more name, image and likeness deals.

It was a play that Georgia had run earlier in the game.

“I was excited that we got the same (defensive) look,” he said. “I just kept running after I caught the ball.”

Before Saturday’s game, Smart spoke of how he has placed a high priority on making and preventing explosive plays as the team’s data study revealed that explosive-play margin was more influential in a game’s outcome than turnover margin.

Saturday offered proof. The Bulldogs were on the short end of turnover margin by a 2-1 count, one of many shortcomings that led them to trail a team that was a two-touchdown underdog but held the lead for most of the first three quarters. But of the game’s six longest plays from scrimmage, all 26 yards or more, Georgia had five of them. Bowers was on the receiving end of the Bulldogs’ four longest plays, tilting the field Georgia’s way as it scrambled to avoid the upset.

“Bowers does what he does,” Smart said. “The guy’s amazing. It’s a wonder why you don’t just go to him every play.”

This was a game that Georgia needed some luck to win. Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne felt it, glumly saying that “I felt like we should have won the game, to be honest.”

You are left to wonder how long the two-time defending national champions can remain undefeated as they continue to start slowly. After Saturday’s game, the Bulldogs have scored 17 first-quarter points in five games against three lower-tier teams and two SEC opponents who are a combined 5-5.

The Tigers hammered UGA in the run game, amassing 219 yards on the ground, the most by a Bulldogs opponent since LSU in 2018 (275). It put Georgia in the same ballpark as Samford, which gave up 222 rushing yards to Auburn two weeks ago.

Perhaps the chickens – not South Carolina’s, mind you – will come home to roost eventually. But consider delaying the hand-wringing. Saturday was a day to savor an all-time tight end, one who might even deserve Heisman Trophy talk. After calling the action for the Georgia broadcast, Bulldogs great Eric Zeier said that Bowers might be the best player in the country.

“He’s special to watch,” Zeier told the AJC, “so we’re lucky to be able to have that opportunity.”

Never more so than Saturday.