The Countdown to Kickoff continues today as we near the 50-day mark until Auburn and Washington, but we’re not quite there it. It’s 51 days to kickoff, and we’re heading back to 1997 for one of the best catches in Auburn history.
The 1997 season was a really solid one for Auburn, but it was also a harbinger of what was to come the next year regarding Terry Bowden. After the brilliant start in 1993 and 1994, the Tigers had slipped a bit. In 1995, Auburn began the year ranked sixth in the AP Poll, and had a couple of #1 votes to boot. However, a week three Phantom Whistle against LSU downed Auburn in Baton Rouge, and the Tigers went 8-4.
In 1996, it was a similar story. Auburn again lost to LSU on a controversial call at home (Robert Baker was totally in the end zone for a touchdown), got destroyed by the eventual national champion Florida, lost to Georgia in quadruple overtime (the first overtime game in SEC history), and lost by a point to Bama in Birmingham. 8-4 again.
So, 1997 dawned with Auburn ranked 16th in the polls (nine teams received first-place votes in the preseason poll that year), and the Tigers reeled off six straight wins to begin the season. That start set up a top ten matchup with Florida on the Plains that the Gators subsequently won 24-10, knocking the Tigers off the rails for a couple weeks.
Auburn had to struggle to beat a bad Arkansas team the next week and then got shut out by Mississippi State 20-0 after that. The Tigers were 7-2 heading into Amen Corner. A 45-34 win in Athens over a Georgia team that would also finish with ten wins was nice, and then the Jarrett Holmes field goal saved the Tigers against Alabama in an 18-17 home victory and won Auburn the SEC West Championship for the first time in school history.
Off to Atlanta, where Peyton Manning and the third-ranked Tennessee Vols stood waiting.
Manning connected with Peerless Price less than three minutes into the game for an opening touchdown, but Auburn answered with a Holmes field goal, and then a fumble return for a touchdown to take a 10-7 lead. Another field goal set Auburn up 13-7, and then Dameyune Craig took the top off the Tennessee defense.
First of all, this was Dameyune Craig’s type of offense. He was allowed to run and shoot all he wanted, and it paved the way for a record-setting year from the quarterback position. You can see that Tennessee gets outside pressure, and forces Craig to step up in the pocket, but he uncorks one for Tyrone Goodson down the middle, and Goodson goes to get it.
The score gave Auburn a 20-7 lead, but unfortunately, Manning stormed back in the second half, and Marcus Nash scored the game-winning touchdown to give Tennessee a 30-29 edge. Auburn would have to wait seven years to get revenge over the Vols in Atlanta.
Stay tuned for more tomorrow — War Eagle!