Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray (11) throws the ball to running back Todd Gurley (3) during the fourth quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday. (John Reed-USA TODAY Sports)
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 bounced off two Georgia defenders 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 failed.
But it still wasn’t over.
Aaron Murray, who had given Georgia its first lead of the game moments early, 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.
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.
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 five-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 Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who both seemed to touch the ball.
Matthews and Harvey-Clemons got tangled up, the ball bounced high in the air and when Marshall caught it behind them, he had an open field to the end zone.
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 left to play.
A three-and-out stop by the Bulldog defense and a shanked punt gave Georgia the ball at the Auburn 45 with 4:47 to play and 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.
Murray also had two badly overthrown passes, the second of which was intercepted by Ryan Smith.
The Georgia offensive highlights of the first half were limited to the pass to Bennett and Todd Gurley’s nine-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 Parker’s field goal attempt.