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Miracle pass, win fall into Auburn's hands

The SportsXchange

AUBURN, Ala. -- For much of the afternoon against Georgia, Auburn's magical season seemed destined for another improbable milestone. Then it appeared destined for shocking heartbreak.

It finally ended with one of the most stunning victories in school history.

A miraculous fourth-down heave from Nick Marshall was tipped away from Georgia free safety Tray Matthews by teammate Josh Harvey-Clemons and fell into the arms of Ricardo Louis, who caught the ball and ran for a 73-yard touchdown to give Auburn a 43-38 lead with 36 seconds left on Saturday. A two-point conversion attempt failed.

Even then, it still wasn't over.

Aaron Murray, who had given Georgia its first lead of the game moments earlier, took he Bulldogs down the field. With three seconds left, Georgia had one last shot from the Auburn 20. Murray, trying to escape a heavy rush, threw incomplete as Dee Ford tipped away his pass.

"This team has the 'it' factor," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "That's just the bottom line. They complement each other very well. Offensively, defensively and special teams, they step up when they have to. They are a joy to coach, and it was one of the most memorable moments that I will remember for a long time. I told them a minute ago I think we're in the midst of something special."

Georgia coach Mark Richt seemed almost in disbelief.

"I don't know what to say other than very interesting ballgame," Richt said.

The Tigers improved to 10-1 overall, 6-1 in the SEC and might have assured themselves of a Sugar Bowl berth. Even a loss to Alabama in the Iron Bowl might not prevent them from gaining an at-large BCS spot.

For Georgia, it was another bitter disappointment in a season that began with so much promise. The Bulldogs (6-4, 4-3) were ranked as high as No. 6 in the country.

"When you lose a game like that, you think of the things you could have done," Richt said.

The Tigers jumped in front of Georgia early and led nearly the entire game.

But the Bulldogs' offense exploded for three fourth-quarter touchdowns, the last coming on Murray's 5-yard run and dive up the middle with 1:49 left in the game. The play was reviewed and upheld. Marshall Morgan's extra point gave Georgia a 38-37 lead, which looked like it would hold up as the final score.

Marshall, a transfer from Georgia, was sacked at his own 27, putting Auburn in a fourth-and-18 predicament. Marshall threw deep for Louis, who was double covered by Matthews and Harvey-Clemons. Matthews appeared to be in position to intercept the ball until Harvey-Clemons, also going for the interception, tipped the ball away.

As Matthews and Harvey-Clemons got tangled up, the ball bounced high in the air and when Louis caught it behind them, he had an open field to the end zone.

"This team is very unique," Malzahn said. "There was a lot of tension and pressure since the momentum had swung. But they had bright eyes in the huddle. It was really unbelievable."

Auburn was close to having the game wrapped up when it took a 37-17 lead in the fourth quarter. But Georgia answered with two quick touchdown drives. Murray's touchdown pass to tight end Artie Lynch cut it to 37-31 with 5:59 to play.

A three-and-out stop by the Bulldogs' defense and a shanked punt gave Georgia the ball at the Auburn 45 with 4:47 to play. Murray took Georgia to the go-ahead touchdown -- and seemingly a victory.

Auburn led 27-10 after dominating the first half. That the Tigers were able to score was not surprising. What was stunning was how they shut down Murray and Georgia's explosive offense. The Tigers held Georgia to 174 yards offense in the first half, 42 of that coming on a pass from Murray to Michael Bennett.

The Tigers sacked Murray once and put him under pressure several other times. The Bulldogs were so rattled that they committed six penalties in the first half, three false starts and an uncharacteristic unsportsmanlike conduct call against coach Mark Richt, who was livid that a fumble was ruled recovered by Auburn. Richt said it was the first penalty on him in his career.

"I guess I wasn't pleasant enough in my disagreement," Richt said.

Murray also had two badly overthrown passes, the second of which was intercepted by Ryan Smith.

The Georgia offensive highlights in the first half were limited to the pass to Bennett and Todd Gurley's 9-yard touchdown run up the middle. A field goal by Morgan as time expired kept it from being a 20-point halftime deficit.

NOTES: Auburn's victory kept the Tigers from falling behind in the series for the first time in 27 years. The Tigers have a 55-54 advantage, plus eight ties. Georgia has not led the series since its 20-16 upset in 1986, the day the sprinklers "accidentally" went off after the game and soaked the jubilant Georgia fans. ... The game was played in Auburn in back-to-back years because of rescheduling required by SEC expansion. ... Georgia had yet another costly special teams mistake but also made a great play. The Bulldogs finally forced Auburn to punt, but John Taylor was flagged for leaping over the blocker. The penalty kept Auburn's drive alive and resulted in Cody Parkey's second field goal. The Bulldogs' Leonard Floyd later blocked Parkey's field goal attempt.
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