TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Cam Newton took an improbable victory lap around Bryant-Denny Stadium, savoring his most audacious performance yet in this season of triumph and controversy: leading Auburn back from 24 points down against the defending national champs.
One more showing like that and it's Newton and the second-ranked Tigers who'll be getting a shot at the title.
Newton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, keeping Auburn on track for a spot in the BCS championship game with a stunning 28-27 victory over No. 9 Alabama on Friday.
"That was a game that will certainly go down in history," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "It's hard to come back when you're down 24-0 against anybody."
Auburn (12-0, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) trailed 21-0 before it even picked up a first down, and Alabama (9-3, 5-3) had a 314-2 lead in total yards when things looked especially grim for the Tigers.
But Newton again rallied a team that has trailed in eight of its 12 games, leaving the crowd of more than 101,000 in disbelief. Well, except those orange-clad faithful crammed into one end of the stadium amid all the crimson, celebrating a win no one could have seen coming just a couple of hours earlier.
Newton threw scoring passes of 36 yards to Emory Blake, 70 yards to Terrell Zachery and, finally, a 7-yarder to Philip Lutzenkirchen with 11:55 remaining that gave Auburn its first lead of the day.
It held up, keeping the Tigers perfect heading to next week's SEC championship game against South Carolina. If Auburn wins that one, the reward will certainly be a berth in the national title game.
"That's the kind of team we have," Zachery said. "We never give up."
Newton also had a 1-yard TD run, and this may be the performance that locks up the Heisman Trophy — if allegations that his father sought a huge payout don't weigh too heavily on the voters' minds.
Certainly on the field, Newton has no peer.
"Cameron Newton is physically and mentally as tough as I've ever seen," Chizik said. "Period."
It's unlikely that anyone in the country could lead a team back from such a daunting deficit in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama had won 20 in a row. This was the greatest comeback ever against the Crimson Tide, no matter where the game was played.
Newton didn't do much on the ground, rushing for just 39 yards and enduring plenty of big hits in the backfield, including four sacks. But he's no slouch with his arm, either. He completed 13 of 20 for 216 yards, including a gutsy fourth-down throw to Darvin Adams that kept the winning drive alive near midfield.
Newton, who hasn't spoken to the media in 2½ weeks, kept up his silent treatment after the game. He even ran around the field with a hand over his mouth, but that was a gleeful gesture to show how he had hushed up all those Alabama fans. He clearly was hiding a big smile.
The momentous comeback wouldn't have been possible without some help from the Tide. Last year's Heisman winner, Mark Ingram, fumbled the ball away at the end of a long run just when it looked like Alabama was about to blow the Tigers all the way back to the Plains.
Another fumble, this one coughed up by quarterback Greg McElroy after a big hit by Nick Fairley — and recovered by Fairley — cost the Tide another scoring chance deep in Auburn territory near the end of the first half.
McElroy threw for a career-high 377 yards, but he wasn't able to finish. He left with a concussion after being body-slammed to the turf on a vicious sack by T'Sharvan Bell in the closing minutes.
"We didn't finish the game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "When you play good teams, you've got to play for 60 minutes. Those kind of teams don't go away. There's a lot of lessons to be learned out there about finishing games and doing things correctly."
Alabama still led 24-7 going to the locker room, but yet another miscue probably hurt the Tide most of all. On Auburn's second play of the second half, Newton threw a deep pass for Zachery down the sideline. Alabama safety Mark Barron came racing over and appeared to have a chance either at the interception or a big hit on the receiver.
He got neither. Barron actually got to the receiver a little early and slid by him. Zachery came down with the ball and kept on going for the touchdown that cut the deficit to 24-14.
The comeback was on. The Tigers never slowed down.
Alabama started out like a team that deserved a shot at defending its title, even with two losses.
The Tide scored on its first three possessions, carving up Auburn with McElroy's pinpoint passes. He completed his first 12 throws, including a 68-yard touchdown to Julio Jones and a 12-yard scoring toss to Darius Hanks. Ingram started things off with a 9-yard TD run, and it looked as though Ingram might make it 28-0 when he caught a short pass and broke loose down the sideline.
But Ingram was tripped up, began to stumble and, while trying to keep his balance, had the ball punched out from behind by Antoine Carter at the 19. The ball rolled all the way to the back of the Auburn end zone, where Demond Washington fell on it for a touchback.
The comeback didn't start immediately. Newton finally completed a pass, and Auburn finally picked up its initial first down on the next play. The Tigers then punted it away again, and Alabama drove to first-and-goal at the Auburn 3. The Tigers defense finally stiffened, benefiting from a dropped pass by Trent Richardson that should've been a TD.
Alabama settled for Jeremy Shelley's 20-yard field goal.
That would be it for the Tide, other than another field goal by Shelley after Auburn fumbled a punt.
It was time for the Cam Newton Show.
No matter what, he figured to be the center of attention. Newton has been under scrutiny since reports emerged alleging his father, Cecil, tried to sell the quarterback's services for as much as $180,000 when he was being recruited out of a Texas junior college.Comment on this story
Alabama certainly didn't resist taking a poke at Newton. When he came on the field for pregame warmups, the loudspeaker blared "Take The Money And Run." As Newton trotted back toward the locker room, someone threw fake money at him.
He appeared to take it all in stride, leading the Tigers onto the field as he always does just before kickoff and running all the way to the far end of the field, where a small contingent of Auburn fans was surrounded by the mostly Alabama crowd.
Then the game began, and for the better part of two quarters it looked like a total rout for the home team.
At the end, though, Newton was the one celebrating.