COLUMBIA — Some people call Auburn a team of destiny. Some even suggest a divine touch. Some just say the Tigers have been lucky.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
There is absolutely no dispute, however, that first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s squad orchestrated two of the most unique and thrilling finishes in college football history en route to the SEC championship against Missouri at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
On Nov. 16, Auburn beat Georgia on a tipped Hail Mary pass from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis in the closing seconds after blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead: “The Prayer at Jordan-Hare.”
After a bye week, Auburn engineered an even more improbable win Nov. 30 against rival Alabama when Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 100 yards — really, it was 109 yards — for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining: “The Kick Six.”
“Good teams find ways to win games,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “That’s what they’re doing. It’s great. They deserve all the accolades they’re getting.”
As crazy as both endings were, Malzahn doesn’t ascribe his team’s success to any form of mysticism. He said his team, like most football teams, has practiced end-of-game situations as far back as preseason camp.
“If it’s a close game, they believe they’re going to win,” Malzahn said. “They’ve had that attitude all year.”
That belief has been rewarded, and you won’t catch Missouri calling Auburn’s SEC West championship a fluke.
“Luck comes through hard work,” senior linebacker Andrew Wilson said.
Besides, as amazing as the endings to Auburn’s last two victories have been, there was a lot more that went into winning those games than the memorable grand finales.
“I think they’ve earned it,” senior quarterback James Franklin said. “I know that they’ve won on big plays, but at the same time, it wasn’t like it was one play that won the whole game. They worked to get there. At the end of the Alabama game, it was tied and they were going to go to overtime.”
During Missouri’s bye week, Franklin watched “The Prayer at Jordan-Hare” from the bowels of the Sprint Center, where he and several teammates were honored at halftime of the men’s basketball team’s game against Hawaii.
He couldn’t help but holler at the TV when Louis snared a deflection by Georgia strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons.
Franklin didn’t get to see “The Kick Six” happen live, because that play went down shortly before Missouri kicked off against Texas A&M last Saturday night — a 28-21 win that delivered an outright SEC East title for Mizzou, 11-1 and ranked fifth.
Still, it didn’t take long for Franklin to learn about Auburn’s latest miracle finish as he was swarmed by fans on Faurot Field.
“I realized it after the game, because people were storming the field and I saw signs that had ‘We want Bama’ crossed out and they put in ‘Auburn,’” Franklin said.
Missouri, of course, hasn’t needed fantastic, last-second finishes. It hasn’t been threatened much late in games aside from its lone loss, in double overtime to South Carolina.
Aside from those oft-replayed moments, which have kept Auburn, 11-1 and ranked third, in the national spotlight, Missouri has enjoyed a fairytale turnaround every bit as compelling, which is another reason for Pinkel’s Tigers to dismiss the destiny talk.
“That’s something for fans and people outside football to entertain them,” junior defensive end Kony Ealy said. “They’re a good team. … These last two games — I don’t want to say they’ve been lucky, but they’ve had players in the right time and the right position. It’s a really good team that fought hard and competes just like anybody else.”
All the same, Missouri wouldn’t mind if Auburn’s luck runs out in Atlanta.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.