It was truly unlike anything I’ve seen in over half a century of college football coverage. At the end of a game between two teams that went on five-game losing streaks, the sold-out crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium erupted in pure joy. Auburn players jumped and hugged. Interim head coach Cadillac Williams, drenched from the ice-cold water bath he had just received, fought back tears.
When Williams ran towards the student section waving a towel, the noise was what one would expect if a championship had just been won. It was a remarkable scene. It was like no one wanted to leave. The atmosphere was really like an Iron Bowl or a game with championship implications.
The Tigers had virtually no passing game in the whipping wind. They returned the ball three times. They stalled in the red zone a few times. Quarterback Robby Ashford knocked down running back Jarquez Hunter on a wheelie road that would have been a certain touchdown. These things didn’t matter. Not this evening. Auburn beat Texas A&M 13-10 and gave Williams his first win as interim head coach. That was all that mattered.
Williams said it wasn’t about him, but it really was. Williams’ energy, love, compassion and passion for all things Auburn quickly won over many. He was the reason Auburn fans packed Jordan-Hare Stadium, why it was the biggest Tiger Walk of the season, why the noise started early and didn’t go away.
Twelve days ago, Auburn fired former head coach Bryan Harsin. Williams was taken by surprise when he was named interim head coach. Today, if you took a vote from Auburn fans, there would likely be overwhelming sentiment to make him the permanent head coach.
When it was over and the match was won, Williams talked about “pouring on those players,” letting them know it was okay if they made a mistake. This is a significant change from the former head coach. He spoke fondly of their efforts and the efforts of the coaching staff. Williams injected energy back into a program that had little in Harsin’s unfortunate tenure.
Dozens of former Williams teammates returned to support him in his first game on the court where he was an All-American and became an Auburn icon.
“I will be forever grateful for this moment,” Williams said.
Auburn’s defense was dominant. Texas A&M had negative yardage in the second half before an 80-yard drive on its final possession that really meant nothing. Auburn could easily have won by a bigger score. Quarterback Robby Ashford knocked down running back Jarquez Hunter, was all alone for what would have been a touchdown. Turnarounds were expensive.
What Auburn’s offense did was run the heck of the ball, going for 270 yards. Hunter rushed 13 times for 121 yards. Tank Bigsby made 23 carries, also for 121 yards
True freshman A&M quarterback Connor Weigman, like many freshman quarterbacks before him, struggled to the roar of the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd. He finished 14 of 36 for 121 yards.
Yes, the Tigers are 4-6. Yes, it would take something close to a miracle to get to a game of bowls. But Saturday night was a party to celebrate.
Linebacker Cam Riley might have said it better.
“We are,” he said, “back in Auburn.”
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