Carnell Williams' 204 rushing yards help Tigers to a 28-23 Iron Bowl win.
By Wire services
Published November 23, 2003
AUBURN, Ala. - Carnell Williams opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown run and finished with 204 yards in Auburn's 28-23 victory over Alabama on Saturday night.
Williams went into the game with five carries in the past two Iron Bowls because of injuries, but he gave the Tigers a lift that might have saved their coach's job.
They blew most of an 18-2 halftime lead against the Crimson Tide before holding on in a game between teams equally desperate for a win.
The Iron Bowl matchup held little of its usual allure outside the state, with the teams entering with a combined 12 losses for the first time and some fans calling for Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville's job.
It wound up providing plenty of drama, including Williams' 80-yarder on the first play from scrimmage and a 96-yard kick return by Alabama's Brandon Brooks to start the second half.
Williams had to score the decisive touchdown twice. He juked a defender and darted 27 yards into the end zone, but a receiver was called for holding at the 5. Three plays later, he leaped over the goal line from the 1 with 7:27 left to make it 28-16.
The Tide added Brodie Croyle's 14-yard touchdown pass to Lance Taylor, who bobbled and caught a ball in the end zone that deflected off Triandos Luke with 1:03 left.
Alabama didn't get another chance, recovering the onside kick before it traveled the required 10 yards.
The Tide, which had crossed midfield once before its final drive, stayed alive with four huge plays by Croyle.
He had a 22-yarder to Ray Hudson on fourth and 7, a 26-yarder to Dre Fulgham on second and 18 and a 26-yarder to Hudson on third and 21. The score came on third and goal.
Tuberville trotted off pumping his fists, culminating a disappointing regular season with a win over the Tigers' chief rival. The smallest man on the field nearly pulled the Tide back into it.
Brooks' return ignited a Tide team that was bullied in the first half on both sides of the ball.
The 5-foot-4 Brooks, who had one kick return this season entering the game, twice juked defenders and won the footrace from there.
It was the first time either team had returned a kick the distance in an Iron Bowl since 1969.
Shaud Williams cut it to 18-16 with a 6-yard touchdown run to cap an eight-play, 82-yard drive on Alabama's next series.
Auburn answered with John Vaughn's 32-yard field goal and was driving again on its next series. Jason Campbell then threw his second interception in the end zone, this one picked off by Charles Jones.
Carnell Williams' long touchdown on the first play was the team's longest gainer of the season. School officials also believed it to be the first time Auburn has scored on its first play from scrimmage since 1957.
He rushed 26 times a week after tallying two first-half carries in a loss at Georgia. An offense that couldn't move early in that game produced 519 yards and a balanced attack against the Tide with an array of big plays.