AUBURN, Ala. -- This wasn't your typical in-state grudge match.
That in itself would have been enough when Alabama and Auburn met Saturday afternoon. But the 82nd edition of the Iron Bowl offered so much more than bragging rights.
This game decided which team would win the SEC West, which would move on to play for the conference championship and which would survive in its quest to reach the College Football Playoff. It meant, well, everything. "The Iron Bowl was always big," Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier in the week, "... but this one is especially big."
And as Jordan-Hare Stadium shook and rattled and roared from kickoff until the final seconds, there was no mistaking that this rivalry game delivered. On the final weekend of the regular season, both teams were aggressive, leaving everything on the field in a back-and-forth battle of top-10 teams.
In the end, with emotions running high, Alabama was the team that blinked. On the road, amid ear-piercing noise, a fumbled field goal attempt cracked open the door for Auburn and Jarrett Stidham, and the Tigers kicked it in, winning 26-14.
Stidham, who transferred to Auburn before spring practice from Baylor when former coach Art Briles was fired, played the best game of his life during the most important game of his team's season. He was accurate and confident throwing the football, completing 21 of 28 passes for 237 yards. But more than that, he was a playmaker, evading an almost constant barrage of blitzers, escaping the pocket and picking up important yards. His 16-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter swung the momentum to a place where Alabama couldn't recover.
Down 12 points with roughly 10 minutes left, Saban's team imploded. Facing third-and-4 inside Auburn territory, a bad snap led to a fumble. Then on fourth down, another bad snap and another fumble. Alabama got a do-over because Auburn had a 12th man on the field and Jalen Hurts found Robert Foster in the flat for what looked like a sure first down. But Foster didn't turn upfield and was stopped half a yard short of moving the chains.
The Alabama defense then appeared to force a three-and-out, only an offside penalty turned what would have been a punt into a first down and an opportunity for Auburn to further salt away the game.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who hadn't beaten rivals Alabama or Georgia since 2013, found a way to knock off both, and both were ranked No. 1 at the time the teams played. In doing so, Malzahn has gone from being on the hot seat to maybe being the hottest coach in the SEC.
For his Tigers, the dream of becoming the first two-loss team to reach the playoff is very much alive. Next up: a rematch with Georgia in the SEC championship game. Auburn beat the Bulldogs by 23 points at home earlier in the month.
For Alabama, all is not yet lost, although it might just be a glimmer of hope at this point. The Tide's playoff dreams are now in the hands of teams like Wisconsin and Ohio State and Miami and Clemson and more.
The Iron Bowl gave us the winner of the SEC West. Time will tell whether it can deliver the winner of the SEC and, maybe, the playoff.