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Hurt So Good: Alabama Will Celebrate Epic Four-OT Iron Bowl Forever

Crimson Tide went from seeing another season derailed at Jordan-Hare Stadium to pulling out an Iron Bowl no one will ever forget.

They were done

It was a holiday disaster-plus.

For most of Saturday, this wasn’t similar to burning the turkey on Thanksgiving Day, the gravy having the consistency of water or forgetting the cranberries.

This was like the kitchen blew up.

The University of Alabama football team went to its least favorite place on the planet and looked like it was about to suffer yet another heartbreaking loss. How many times had the Crimson Tide gone to Jordan-Hare Stadium only to see everything go the other way? The fans could sense something on the order of the Kick Six, or the Pick Six Twins, and were ready to storm both the field and Toomer’s Corner – again.

Only hold that toilet paper, please.

It had been a lousy week in Tuscaloosa, from the death of legendary sportswriter Cecil Hurt, to Nick Saban calling out the “self-absorbed” fans during an emotional radio show. Nothing seemed right, and it carried over into the game.

For most of the afternoon, Alabama couldn’t run.

It couldn’t throw.

It couldn't block. 

Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason dialed up a great game plan and smartly went after the new guy, sophomore Damieon George Jr., who was making his third career start at right tackle. By continually applying pressure through both man and zone blitzes Young was never able to get comfortable.

Then, Alabama’s biggest weapon was suddenly out of the game, with wide receiver Jameson Williams called for targeting in punt coverage. Four plays later, T.J. Finley found Kobe Hudson for a 15-yard touchdown when safety DeMarcco Hellams, who had made several big hits, slipped.

Things continued to only get worse.

Running back Brian Robinson Jr. suffered an ankle injury, returned, but then hurt it again and was done for the night.

Alabama came in leading the nation in third-down conversions 88-for-156 (.564)., and it went 1-for-7 in the first half. It managed just four first downs before the break, when the teams combined for minus-5 yards rushing.

Yet the defense held true. It was outstanding all night long, keeping the Crimson Tide in it.

Eventually, the offense finally started to get on track, although Alabama kept making critical mistakes.

For example, guard Emil Ekiyor Jr. was called for continuing to engage after his helmet came off, backing the offense up. Subsequently facing third-and-long, Young forced a pass downfield that was picked off.

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There were scores of dropped passes.

Will Reichard never got off a 38-yard field-goal attempt following a bad hold.

When Alabama went for it on fourth down, Young couldn’t handle the low snap and got stuffed.

It felt so familiar in this setting. Maybe not seen as often as Crimson Tide national championships under Nick Saban, but it only reinforced how tough it is to win these kinds of rivalry games and the difficulty of the SEC West.

Few will take note of that, though, regardless of the outcome. The word was out that Alabama’s national tile chances and quarterback Bryce Young’s Heisman Trophy were going up in smoke, and no one seemed surprised.

Whereas last year’s team had a feel of invincibility, which was well earned, this unproven one had a feel of inevitability after so many close games and the disappointing loss at Texas A&M.

Yet somehow, someway, Alabama was only down 10-3, when it got the ball at the Alabama 3, and 1:35 on the clock.

"I got a little excited, knowing what we're capable of, what we can do," Young said.  

Saban had looked to the young corps of receivers when Williams was ejected and asked, “Who will step up?”

Freshman Ja’Corey Brooks did, with a 21-yard reception during that 98-yard drive that was capped with his 28-yard touchdown reception with 24 seconds remaining.

Junior John Metchie III did as well, finishing with 13 catches for 150 yards and scored the game-winning points in the fourth overtime for the 24-22 victory.

The game that appeared to be a disaster turned into a Crimson Tide classic, with scores of unsung players doing their part. The list included Chris Owens, Trey Sanders, Kool-Aid McKinstry, and punter James Burnip, who came in and helped Reichard make a pair of clutch field goals.

Ironically, it also came on the 12-year anniversary of "The Drive," when Roy Upchurch caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Greg McElroy to give Alabama a shot at No. 1 Florida in the 2009 SEC Championship Game.

"It was wild," linebacker Will Anderson Jr. said of this ending. "Words can't describe it."

An Iron Bowl had never gone to overtime before, and this one went four, during which we saw Alabama turn the tables and pull out a very Auburn-like win in the nation’s biggest rivalry. Granted, the Crimson Tide may still not make the College Football Playoff, and Young still may not win the Heisman (although he still threw for 317 yards and two touchdowns), with a victory like this everything else this team pulls off has be considered gravy.

"I think they name some of these games in this series," noted Saban, "because there have been some great games, some great comebacks."

So here’s a suggestion for this one:

Hurt so good. 

Christopher Walsh's column regularly appears on BamaCentral. This story will be updated