AUBURN, Ala — With 30 seconds remaining in the 80th Iron Bowl on Saturday, Alabama running back Derrick Henry took a handoff from quarterback Jake Coker in the backfield. The Crimson Tide offense was positioned in the red zone with a slim 22-13 lead over rival Auburn. Henry barreled into the line of scrimmage, broke free and rumbled 25 yards into the south end zone of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Alabama players swarmed Henry, smacking him on the helmet and the backside in front of a crowd of 87,451, most of whom had gone silent.
But before Henry strolled back to the Alabama sideline, the junior turned to Auburn’s deflated student section and waved his right hand. Henry had delivered the equivalent of a walk-off home run, a dagger that needed no further explanation. That’s all, folks. Goodbye, upset bid. Goodbye, regular season. Hello, SEC Championship Game.
On Saturday, No. 2 Alabama won its second straight Iron Bowl, 29-13, clinched the SEC West and secured a spot in the conference title game. The Tide will play No. 10 Florida in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 5. That idea seemed far-fetched 10 weeks ago, when the reigning conference champs were reeling from an unexpected loss to Ole Miss. That setback seemed to shake the very foundation of Alabama’s program.
“Their legacy as a team,” Saban said, “will be decided by how we finish.”