Two miracles equal an Auburn victory over Georgia

If it was not already evident that this is not the Georgia Bulldogs’ year, Auburn left no doubt Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Trailing 38-37 and facing fourth-and-18 at their own 27 with 36 seconds to play, Tigers’ quarterback Nick Marshall dropped back to heave a prayer down the middle of the field. It was answered.

Though wide receiver Ricardo Louis was well-covered by Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews, the two safeties both reached for the ball at the same time. The ball deflected off Harvey-Clemons’ hands — Matthews appeared in position to intercept it — and over Matthews’ head. Louis continued down the field and, as Georgia’s defensive backs fell to the ground, he hauled in the deflected ball and ran untouched into the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown with 25 seconds remaining.

Auburn failed on the ensuing two-point conversion, but fought off another furious comeback attempt from Georgia and held on for a miraculous 43-38 victory.

“I told our team, I really feel like we’re in the midst of something special,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.

Auburn’s win ruined an otherwise remarkable comeback by Georgia. Senior quarterback Aaron Murray scored a 5-yard touchdown run that saw him get into the end zone by a whisker with 1:49 to play. The touchdown stood up after a long video replay review and capped a remarkable 28-point second-half comeback by the Bulldogs, who trailed 27-10 at halftime.

“We could sense it,” Murray said of the impending Georgia victory. “Once we had a couple TDs, the defense really did a great job of getting us field position towards the end. We just knew we needed to get the ball in our hands, and we felt like we could score at the end of the game, no matter what.”

Even after the remarkable Auburn score, Murray had Georgia in position to break hearts again. He used two pass completions and an offside penalty to get the Bulldogs in position for another go-ahead score. But on first-and-5 from the Tigers’ 20, he was hit by Dee Ford as he tried to release a pass under pressure. The hit altered Murray’s throw, which fell to the ground well short of the end zone.

Murray collapsed in a heap right there, lying so still he appeared dead until a teammate rolled him onto his back to console him.

“I don’t know what to say other than interesting ballgame,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, exhausted from the emotional roller-coaster ride he endured. “Congratulations to Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers. They were fantastic.”

The victory was huge for Auburn. After finishing 3-9 last season, the Tigers improved to 10-1 under first-year coach Malzahn. Now all that stands between Auburn and an appearance in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta is a rather notable date against No. 1-ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl. That game will be played at Jordan-Hare in two weeks.

Now with their SEC East hopes officially extinguished, the Bulldogs (6-4, 4-3 SEC) can play for whatever bowl bids might be left out there. Depending on how they do in their final games against Kentucky and Georgia Tech, the options probably won’t be great.

Murray appeared to have executed one of the greatest comebacks in Georgia history just barely a minute before Auburn’s prayerful play. Murray’s diving, 5-yard touchdown run, which saw him get into the end zone by a whisker on fourth-and-goal, stood up to video review and tied the score at 37-37 with 1:49 to go. Marshall Morgan’s PAT gave the Bulldogs their first and only lead.

But as has been the case all season, Georgia’s defense could not make it stand up at the moment of truth. Jordan Jenkins sacked Marshall for a 6-yard loss with 36 seconds to play at Auburn’s 27. If the Tigers were going to win it would take a miracle. And they got it.

“We got them to fourth-and-18, which is almost as good as it gets,” Richt said. “But to their credit they make a play. Sure enough our guys don’t give up. We had two shots at the end zone. I give our boys credit for that as well.”

Murray finished with 415 yards on 33-of-49 passing — including 277 yards in the second half — with two touchdowns and an interception. Todd Gurley had 79 yards on 15 carries and scored.

“He’s a great player, a great, great player,” Malzahn said of Murray.

Marshall, the ousted Bulldog, had 229 yards passing — including the 73-yard, game-winning touchdown, and 89 yards rushing. Tre Mason added 115 yards and a touchdown for the Tigers.

It was the eighth game this season when the outcome of one Georgia’s game hung in the balance in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve fought all year long,” Murray said. “We know every game is a fourth-quarter battle, and we know we have to keep fighting to the end.”