AUBURN, Ala. - Alabama was making a run at college football history this season, and what a run it was.
The Crimson Tide were bidding to become the first team to win three consecutive national championships, and they had been ranked No. 1 all season heading into Saturday's game at Auburn. The Tide took a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, but all their title aspirations unraveled in the final minute of play as the Tigers rallied for a 34-28 stunner.
Not only is a BCS title all but out of the question, but a conference championship is definitely out, as Auburn will represent the SEC West in this Saturday's league championship game in Atlanta.
"It was pretty much championship or bust," Alabama senior linebacker C.J. Mosley said after his 14-tackle performance. "That was the main reason I came back. It [stinks] the way it ended, but we've got to stick together and move on."
Alabama entered the Iron Bowl with an 11-0 record and an average margin of victory of 40-9. The Crimson Tide avenged last season's loss to Texas A&M and put away LSU, but they never could distance themselves from Auburn in the West standings.
The Tigers suffered an early-season loss at LSU but stayed in the division race with their miraculous 43-38 win over Georgia two weeks ago that was won on a tipped, 73-yard scoring reception by Ricardo Louis from Nick Marshall on fourth-and-18. Alabama discovered the hard way Saturday that Auburn had not run out of last-minute adventure.
"For the seniors we have on our team, I feel really badly," coach Nick Saban said, "because they've had a great career here and have done a fantastic job. I'm really proud of how this team came along and improved throughout the course of the season and created the opportunity that we had for ourselves here today.
"We told our team that this was like March Madness, and if we wanted to keep playing in the tournament, we had to keep winning. I was proud of the way our guys competed, but the fact of the matter is we didn't make plays when we needed to."
No Alabama player had a tougher day than senior kicker Cade Foster, who missed field-goal attempts from 44 and 33 yards and had a 44-yarder blocked. His missed 33-yarder in the first minute of the fourth quarter occurred after a successful attempt from 28 yards was negated by a false start on Arie Kouandjio.
"Cade's a great kid, and it wasn't all his fault," Tide quarterback AJ McCarron said after a 277-yard, three-touchdown passing performance. "I love him to death, and I have all the confidence in the world that he would make those kicks. I told everybody to hold their head high. It's one loss, and we still have a chance to play in a BCS bowl game."
Alabama's most likely postseason destination is either the Sugar Bowl, should the SEC champion advance to the BCS title game, or the Orange Bowl, if the SEC champ goes to New Orleans. For the Crimson Tide to have any hope of a third straight BCS crown, they would need Florida State and Ohio State to lose their conference championships.
"We always have hope," defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan said. "We've been in this situation before, actually twice, and we got national championships out of it."
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