Claremore Daily Progress

Sports

December 3, 2013

Stunning matchup for SEC title: Tigers vs. Tigers

ATLANTA — Talk about an SEC surprise.

Just a year ago, the Auburn Tigers won all of three games and fired their coach. Just a year ago, the Missouri Tigers looked very much like a school that had no business joining the mighty Southeastern Conference.

Well, look at the matchup for Saturday's championship game.

Tigers vs. Tigers.

''We're playing a very good Missouri team that's very similar to us,'' Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. ''I think about both teams being very hungry. We were both kind of down at the bottom at the start of the year. But we've improved. I feel like we've improved each game. They would probably say the same thing.''

Indeed, that's exactly what Missouri coach Gary Pinkel says.

''We just kept getting better,'' he said Sunday. ''Our kids played hard every single game at a very high level. I've been around a lot of good football teams, but I've rarely been around a team like that, playing at the level they did on a consistent basis.''

No. 3 Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC) earned its trip to Atlanta with one of the most remarkable victories in college football history, returning a missed field goal 109 yards for the winning touchdown on the final play to beat two-time defending national champion Alabama 34-28. (Somehow, these Tigers managed to surpass their previous Miracle on the Plains, the 2-week-old ''Immaculate Deflection'' victory over Georgia.)

Meanwhile, fifth-ranked Missouri (11-1, 7-1) locked up the SEC East by holding off Texas A&M and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel 28-21 on Saturday night, showing off a stout defense that helped push those Tigers to the top of the division in a year when traditional powerhouses Georgia and Florida were plagued by injuries and failed to meet expectations.

What a change from Missouri's debut season in the SEC, when Pinkel's team went 5-7 and won just two conference games after moving over from the Big 12.

''I thought we would have a very good football team,'' he insisted. ''But we could have been a very good football team and not be sitting here 11-1, either.''

For all the giddiness in Auburn and Missouri, their remarkable turnarounds could actually work against the SEC extending its already unprecedented streak of seven straight national titles. Formerly top-ranked Alabama slipped to fourth in all three of the major polls, replaced at the top by Florida State. The only other unbeaten team from a major conference, Ohio State, moved up to second.

If the Seminoles defeat surprising Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, as expected, and Ohio States stays perfect with a victory over Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, those teams would likely meet for the BCS title.

Auburn isn't giving up, though, already lobbying for a spot in Pasadena if it knocks off Missouri at the Georgia Dome.

''I feel like we are destined to finish very strong,'' safety Jermaine Whitehead said.

Missouri believe it deserves a shot at the national title if it beats Auburn.

''Any one-loss team in the SEC (should be considered) just because of the strength of schedule,'' Pinkel said. ''Hopefully that will be taken into consideration.''

Alabama's only hope of getting to the BCS title game is Florida State and Ohio State both losing next weekend, though Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban made a pitch for the school that has claimed three of the last four championships.

''I still think we have one of the best teams in the country,'' Saban said. ''I am very, very proud of this team.''

But it's Auburn moving on to the SEC championship game, one year after the Tigers went 3-9 season and coach Gene Chizik was fired two years after winning a national championship.

Enter Malzahn, a former assistant at Auburn.

''I knew we had some talent, but they had been through a storm the year before,'' he said. ''I was really just focused on getting our edge back, playing good Auburn football. I didn't have any expectations as far as number of wins. It was actually real simple: Get our edge back, play together and improve each week. By the end of the year, the goal was to be a pretty good football team.''

That they are, though it took plenty of good fortune to win the SEC West. There was a deflected 73-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-18 to beat Georgia in the final minute. Then came a play that put that one to shame - Davis' touchdown return from the back of the end zone, after Alabama's attempt at a game-winning 57-yard field goal came up a few yards short.

A day later, it was still the talk of the sports world.

''I just want to start out by saying, `War Eagle,''' former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton said, shortly after leading Carolina to an NFL victory over Tampa Bay.

Malzahn said it's imperative that Auburn forget about the remarkable victory as quickly as possible. They've got to play another team known as the Tigers, a team that also feels like it's got destiny on its side.

To show where his mind is, Malzahn hung around the office late Saturday watching some Missouri film.

''It was a great night, a great win for us as a program and all that,'' Malzahn said. ''But we've got to put it behind us now and move forward.''

 

1
Text Only
Sports
  • DSC_0016web.jpg District Champions!

    District champions ... Enough said!
    Claremore freshman forward Olivia Maulsby converted a game-winning header with 1:22 remaining to lead the No. 4-ranked Lady Zebras past No. 5 Skiatook, 2-1 Tuesday night in Metro Lakes Conference play at Lantow Field.

    April 23, 2014 3 Photos

  • DSC_0433web.jpg SOCCER: Bulldogs spoil ‘Senior Night’ for Zebras

    Claremore senior goalkeeper Sam Lillie made the most of his first and last varsity start Tuesday night against Skiatook on Senior Night at Lantow Field.
    For 40 minutes, Lillie was flawless in the goal, allowing only one goal and making several tenacious stops against the fiery Bulldogs.
    The second-half, however, told a different story as No. 3 Skiatook scored four goals and enjoyed a 5-0 win over the No. 15 Zebras.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Berryhill’s White strikes out 17, tosses no-hitter over No. 1 Verdigris

    Top-ranked Class 3A Verdigris got White-washed by 4A No.3 Berryhill on Tuesday night.
    In a battle of 2013 state champions, Chiefs’ ace Nick White — a future Oklahoma State pitcher —  fired a no-hitter with 17 strikeouts, igniting a 5-0 victory over the Cardinals.

    April 23, 2014

  • Stilwell’s Lea signs with RSU men's basketball

    Rogers State University men's basketball head coach Justin Barkley announced the addition of standout center Matt Lea for the 2014-15 season.

    April 23, 2014

  • HANSLOVANweb.jpg SOCCER: No. 2 Lady Cards roll past Oologah

    Verdigris senior forward Caitlyn Hanslovan tallied another ‘hat trick’ in her illustrious Lady Cardinals soccer career Tuesday night at Oologah.
    The three goals by Hanslovan soared the second-ranked Lady Cardinals past Oologah, 5-0 in non-conference play at Mustangs Stadium.

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • 5 Claremore HS tennis players earn all-conference

    The Claremore High School boys and girls varsity tennis programs had five players receive Metro Lakes all-conference recognition.

    April 23, 2014

  • SEC MEN'S BB: Johnson, Poythress returning to Kentucky

    Kentucky's frontcourt will bring back size and experience next season after freshman center Dakari Johnson and sophomore forward Alex Poythress announced they would return.

    April 23, 2014

  • NBA PLAYOFFS: Grizzlies look to keep home edge against Thunder

    The Grizzlies are happy to be back in Memphis, where they finished the regular season by winning a franchise-record 14 straight games.
    They brought home-court advantage with them.
    To guard Mike Conley, that ratchets up the pressure even more. It's time for the Grizzlies to protect the place they call the Grindhouse.

    April 23, 2014

  • NBA PLAYOFFS: Warriors, Clippers to meet in Oakland for Game 3

    Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson sat on the scorer's table at Oracle Arena on Wednesday morning. He gazed around the building and tried to envision what it will look and sound like when the Warriors host the Los Angeles Clippers for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Thursday night.

    April 23, 2014

  • Arkansas' Beeks among SEC pitchers having banner season

    Now more than ever, the key to success in the Southeastern Conference is pitching.
    The league has the lowest ERA in the country, and aces abound as postseason play approaches next month.
    LSU's Aaron Nola (7-1, 0.88 ERA), Arkansas' Jalen Beeks (5-3, 1.49) and Mississippi's Chris Ellis (5-0, 1.72) are among those dominating almost every time they take the mound.

    April 23, 2014