OXFORD, Miss. -- All it takes is one play. One play changed the outcome of Saturday’s showdown between No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss. One play likely cost Rebels' wide receiver Laquon Treadwell his season. And one play might have determined who gets into the first College Football Playoff and who gets left out.
It was third-and-3, and Ole Miss had the ball on Auburn’s 20-yard line, down 35-31, with less than two minutes left. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw it short to Treadwell, and Treadwell took off. He broke multiple tackles and fought off defenders on his way to the end zone. It looked like he was going to get in when Kris Frost got a hand on him from behind.
In the blink of an eye, Frost pulled him back, preventing him from getting in, and the ball trickled out inches before it crossed the goal line.
“Basically, I was just trying to prevent him from getting in the end zone, and I felt the ball a little loose and tried to strip it,” Frost said. “It came out, and the call went our way.”
The call on the field was a touchdown, but after a second look, the officials determined the ball had indeed come out before.
Fellow Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy, who was there to pounce on it in the end zone, said he knew it was out right away.
“I was thinking, 'I’ve got to get the ball. Nobody can take it from me,'” McKinzy said. “It gets dirty at the bottom of that pile, but we needed the ball.”
McKinzy did recover it, and Auburn escaped with a 35-31 victory on the road against one of the best teams in college football.
The win shouldn’t surprise Auburn fans, though. The Tigers have been doing this since Gus Malzahn arrived on the Plains, prior to the past season. Remember the Prayer at Jordan-Hare? The kick-six to beat Alabama? Saturday was no different.
“It’s all about the players,” Malzahn said. “They truly believe if it’s close, they’re going to find a way to win. They’ve done it the last two years in some of the most bizarre ways. But there’s a lot of champions in that locker room. It’s a special group.”
The players, especially the ones who were part of the past year’s run to the BCS title game, have grown accustomed to these types of games. Even last week against South Carolina, the Auburn defense needed to make a crucial stop late in the game to hang on.
“We’ve kind of gotten used to the discomfort of playing in a game like this and having it go blow-for-blow,” Frost said. “We just know if we keep it close, we know how to win, and we know that we’ll come out with a win. We just have to continue to do what we do and play Auburn football.”
The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for this Auburn team. The Tigers still have road trips to Georgia and Alabama on the schedule, and their two visits to the Magnolia State have proven winning on the road in the SEC is no easy task.
But Malzahn told his team to enjoy the win Saturday night. They deserved it.
The outcome wasn’t as favorable for Ole Miss. The Rebels were on the verge of knocking off both Alabama and Auburn in the same season, but not only did they lose the game, they also lost Treadwell for what looks to be an extended amount of time. After the game, head coach Hugh Freeze said Treadwell “definitely has a fracture” , after his leg got rolled up on the fumble at the goal line.
“When you see your young men put so much into preparing for opportunities like we had tonight, you see the hurt that they go through,” Freeze said. “Whoever lost that game tonight was going to feel that way.”
It all turned in one play. That play was the difference Saturday night, and that play will have a lasting effect on the rest of the season.