Auburn, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - Nick Marshall got to experience the SEC Championship Game during his brief time at Georgia. With the help of a miraculous play, he has Auburn one win from going there.
The former Bulldogs cornerback and current Auburn quarterback's 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis with 25 seconds remaining added yet another chapter to the seventh-ranked Tigers' storybook season, as well as a 43-38 triumph over No. 25 Georgia in a classic from Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn (10-1, 6-1 SEC), which went winless in conference play last season and was handed a 38-0 shellacking at home by the Bulldogs last November, set up a winner-take-all showdown with No. 1 Alabama for the SEC West title in the Iron Bowl in two weeks with its seventh consecutive victory -- though the Tigers had to overcome three fourth-quarter touchdowns by Georgia that turned a 20- point deficit into a 38-37 lead entering the final minute.
Faced with a 4th-and-18 from his own 27-yard line, Marshall -- dismissed from the Bulldogs' program in February of 2012 for a violation of team rules -- sent a desperation heave down the middle of the field to Louis with a pair of Georgia defenders converging.
Bulldogs safety Tray Matthews got his hands on the underthrown ball, but knocked it up into the air as Louis snared it before running in untouched for the startling go-ahead score.
"The only thing that was going through my mind was try to make a play," said Louis. "At first I was going to try and jump for it, but they took the angle, so I just kept my eyes on the ball over my shoulder and watched the ball all the way in."
Marshall added a pair of rushing touchdowns and 89 yards on the ground in addition to completing 15-of-26 passes for 229 yards. Louis finished with 131 yards on four receptions, with Tre Mason rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries for Auburn.
"This team, they are special. This is a special group," said Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn. "They've been through a lot, and they rallied, came together and believed in each other. They bought in to the fact to get better in each game. I told them before the game, we've been building up for this moment. The moment was to play with these guys. They did that tonight."
Aaron Murray threw for 415 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, the last a gutsy 5-yard run on fourth down with 1:49 to play, to nearly single-handedly lead Georgia (6-4, 4-3). The senior quarterback made good on 33-of-49 passing attempts with two scores and one interception.
"Obviously, you need your quarterback to play well to get back in the game and he did," said Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt of Murray. "Early on we didn't protect very well. As the game went on, we gave him time and that was a big part of it. Murray did a really wonderful job."
Inspired by the stakes of the game and last year's result, Auburn dominated much of the first three quarters and owned a seemingly comfortable 37-17 advantage early in the fourth following Cody Parkey's third field goal of the game.
Murray proceeded to engineer a 9-play, 60-yard drive, culminating with his 4- yard touchdown delivery to Rantavious Wooten on a slant with 9:35 left to play, and Georgia's defense stepped up by forcing the Tigers' potent attack to go three-and-out.
Todd Gurley took a short dump-off from Murray 22 yards into Auburn territory on the opening play of the Bulldogs' next series. Four plays later, Murray found a wide-open Arthur Lynch, who hurled a defender en route to a 24-yard score that suddenly made it a one-possession game at 37-31 with 5:59 to go.
Auburn's offense then stalled once again, giving Georgia back the ball back near midfield on a short punt. Three more Murray completions, the last a 17- yard strike to Michael Bennett, created a 1st-and-goal at the Auburn 7.
The Tigers held Gurley to a short gain and Murray misfired on two throws to bring on fourth down, but the veteran signal-caller took on two defenders and just got over the goal line while diving head-first on a 5-yard scramble that put Georgia ahead for the first time of the day after Marshall Morgan converted the PAT.
Jordan Jenkins' sack of Marshall on third down in the final minute appeared to get Georgia one step closer to victory, but Matthews couldn't come down with a game-clinching interception on the next snap and Louis made him pay.
"I told [Malzahn] I wanted the ball," said Louis of the play. "I told him the whole game that I wanted the ball in my hand. Whether it was running or catching the ball, I wanted the ball in my hands. I told Nick before that play and told him to throw me the ball and I made a play."
Murray kept the outcome in doubt, however, with connections to Lynch and Wooten for 22 and 28 yards, respectively, as Georgia got to the Tigers' 20 with three seconds left. His final throw hit the ground, though, while under pressure as time expired.
"It's like a nightmare," said Murray of the loss. "You try to wake up, and we are celebrating victory. It's tough. This is going to be a tough one to get over."
The Bulldogs were put in an early 13-0 hole before recording their initial first down of the game, with Auburn outgaining Georgia by a whopping 149-4 margin in total yards for the first quarter and registering 10 first downs to its opponent's none.
The Tigers' offense set the tone with a methodical 15-play, 56-yard drive that wound up stalling inside the Georgia 10 and resulted in Parkey's 22-yard field goal. The time-consuming sequence almost ended in a turnover, as Sammie Coates fumbled at the end of a 33-yard catch and the Bulldogs recovered deep in their own end. However, the pass was ultimately called incomplete upon review.
After Auburn forced a three-and-out on the Bulldogs' first possession, Marshall completed four straight throws to put the Tigers back into Georgia territory, then later handed it to Corey Grant on a fly sweep that the speedster took 21 yards into the end zone for a 10-0 advantage with 4:29 left in the quarter.
The Bulldogs had temporarily stopped Auburn on its next series, but a personal foul penalty nullified a punt and kept the ball in the Tigers' hands. A 14- yard connection from backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson to Melvin Ray soon afterward led to Parkey's 35-yard kick that extended the lead less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Georgia finally got something going following the second field goal. Bennett took a short pass 42 yards to cross midfield and Murray hit Jonathon Rumph for a key completion on 3rd-and-3 before Gurley powered off a 9-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 13-7.
The Bulldogs had another near-takeaway negated on the ensuing series, having appeared to recover a Louis fumble at the Auburn 37 that officials ruled the Tigers to have kept. The verdict proved pivotal, as runs by Marshall and Mason totaling 11 and 14 yards, respectively, created a 1st-and-goal prior to Marshall completing the 6-play, 73-yard jaunt with a 6-yard TD run on an option read that restored the 13-point differential.
Georgia's Leonard Floyd blocked Parkey's field goal try on Auburn's next trip to keep the score 20-7, but the Tigers went 61 yards in six plays to reach the end zone again on their subsequent possession. Mason capped it with a 24-yard run through a huge hole up the middle with 1:07 remaining in the half.
Murray gave the Bulldogs some momentum heading into the break, hitting on 7- of-8 passes to put his team in range for Morgan's 37-yard field goal that pulled Georgia within 27-10. He then began the second half with six consecutive completions in orchestrating a 10-play, 70-yard drive that ended on his 16-yard touchdown scramble that trimmed Auburn's cushion to 10 points.
Marshall countered with some sharp passing of his own, firing a deep ball that Louis hauled in for a 44-yard gain to the Bulldogs' 7 on the Tigers' first series of the third quarter. Two plays later, Marshall veered across the goal line on a 5-yard keeper to put Auburn up by a 34-17 count with 8:47 left in the period.
Georgia's offense couldn't keep up, punting on its next two treks, and Parkey made it a 20-point spread by knocking through a 32-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Louis' 32-yard scamper on an end around helped lead to the kick.
Auburn, which entered the contest averaging 320 rushing yards per game, put up 323 on the ground and finished with 566 total yards ... Murray now has 903 completions for his career, moving him past Florida's Chris Leak for the most in SEC history ... Georgia had won six of the last seven matchups between the rivals, with last year's verdict Auburn's first shutout loss at home since 2003 ... Gurley came up with 10 catches for 77 yards ... The Bulldogs are now minus-eight in turnover ratio for the season after failing to come up with a takeaway in the loss.