7:45 PM ET, November 22, 2003
Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Carnell Williams finally got his chance to shine in the Iron Bowl, Tommy Tuberville made a statement for keeping his job and Auburn gained some redemption.
Williams opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown run and finished with 204 yards in the Tigers' 28-23 victory over Alabama on Saturday night.
Alabama has struggled to replace injured quarterback Brodie Croyle.
Williams entered the game with only five carries in the last two Iron Bowl games because of injuries, but gave Auburn (7-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) a lift that might have saved Tuberville's job.
"This is the game we're supposed to win," a defiant Tuberville said amid cheers from fans allowed into the postgame news conference. "We went out there and won it. I'm going to go home and sleep real good tonight, I promise you."
The Tigers blew most of an 18-2 halftime lead against the Crimson Tide (4-8, 2-6) before holding on in a game between two 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 in series history and some fans calling for Tuberville's job.
The coach promised earlier in the week he would be back next season. Asked if he was willing to reiterate that statement, Tuberville said, "That ain't my decision. Any other questions?"
The game provided plenty of drama beyond his future. The highlights included 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.
"This is the big day here," said Williams, who had only two carries in the first half of last week's loss at Georgia. "This is the day everybody waits for, one of the best rivalries in the country.
"It does take away a lot of the hurt we've been through this season."
Alabama didn't get another chance, recovering the onside kick before it traveled the required 10 yards.
"It has been a difficult season," said first-year coach Mike Shula, whose team has lost four of five. "I am tired of saying the word 'close' and the guys are tired of hearing it."
The Tide, which had only crossed midfield once before its final drive, stayed alive with four huge plays by Croyle.
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 only one kick return this season entering the game, twice juked defenders and won the race to the end zone.
It was the first time either team had returned a kick for a touchdown 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 its next series.
Auburn answered with John Vaughn's 32-yard field goal.
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.
The player who grew up an Alabama fan finally made his mark on the state's biggest game.
"That's real special," Carnell Williams said. "I always wanted to play in the Iron Bowl. It's overwhelming. It feels great."
An offense that couldn't move the ball against Georgia produced 519 yards and a balanced attack against the Tide with an array of big plays.
Campbell finished 18-of-27 for 270 yards with a 64-yard touchdown pass to Ben Obomanu in the first quarter and two others that would have been scores but for a drop and an unforced fumble.
Shaud Williams, the league's No. 1 rusher, gained 93 yards on 18 carries. The other Williams is right behind him.
Alabama was trying to join Georgia and Florida as the only visitors to win three straight at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The visiting team had won the past four games in the rivalry, and nobody was happier than Tuberville to snap that streak.
"We pour our heart and soul into this game, and I know we haven't played a great season and we've lost some games," he said. "We've played a tough schedule, and our guys have played hard every snap, every game, for four quarters, win or lose."