By: Ryan Moreland
You don’t have to be a seasoned veteran in the CFSL to have seen some great games. In my two seasons with the league, I have seen some classics. However, for those that have been around since the beginning, one game stands above the rest. That game took place in week eight of Season 1 between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Auburn Tigers. Here is the story behind the greatest game in league history.
The Build Up
Before kickoff, you might not have thought much about this match-up. Both teams had struggled early in the season and neither at the time looked like real playoff contenders. Auburn was easily the closer of the two to being a contender, though. The Tigers were 3-4 when Iowa came to town. Iowa was 1-6 with its sole win over Ohio State. However, the Hawkeyes had played most of their games close. Only two of those losses were by more than a touchdown. Here is a full breakdown of their respective seasons up to the game:
|at Ohio State
|vs Boise State
|vs Florida State
|vs Notre Dame
|vs Boise State
|at Ohio State
|at Notre Dame
As you can see, this game wouldn’t be the first time these two teams had played each other. In Season 1 teams played a nine-game regular season schedule. The league only had eight teams at the time, so each team would play two teams twice. The first time Iowa and Auburn met it was a low-scoring game with 686 combined yards. The rematch would more than double the production saw in the first meeting.
First off, I highly recommend going back and watching this one (which you can do here). My recap is thorough, but words cannot do this game justice.
Auburn started the game with the ball but didn’t have it for long. On first and ten from the 50, Auburn QB Blake Moon dropped back deep looking for his favorite target, WR Devonta Duncan. However, Iowa corner Denzel Brock had Duncan well covered. Brock came up with the interception on the Hawkeye 25.
The ensuing Hawkeye drive looked promising. QB Justin Meis led his team to the eight-yard line before disaster struck. Meis snapped the ball, looked down the field, and didn’t see anything. This wasn’t a problem for the fleet of foot QB. Meis tucked the ball and ran upfield. He was hit at the five-yard line and the ball fell free from his hands. Auburn’s Trenton Worsham scooped up the ball and was tackled immediately.
The Tigers would not have the ball for very long once again. On the next play, Moon found walk-on Tony Smith over the middle for what would have been a nice gain. Smith, however, could not hang on to the football through contact. Iowa scooped up the fumble and would start with the ball on the Auburn 30.
At this point, it looked like the defenses would be dictating the action. All three drives of the game had ended in turnovers. As a result, there were no points scored. This, however, would change quickly. There would not be another turnover in this game and both offenses would begin to dominate.
Iowa would strike first. Just two plays after the fumble Meis would find Alex A Cook on a 21-yard play-action pass for six. It would be Cook’s first touchdown of the season, but wouldn’t be his last of the night.
It only took three plays for Auburn to strike back. Making up for the costly fumble earlier, Smith would snag a short pass and take off. He went 64 yards untouched for Auburn’s first score of the game.
Iowa would go three and out on their next drive. This was thanks in large part to a Tony Bryant sack on second down that set up third and 12. Auburn would benefit from good field position on their next drive and they made the most of it. Moon, who had been looking for the long ball all night, finally finds one with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Duncan. After the PAT Auburn led 14 to 7.
Moon wasn’t the only quarterback with long-ball ability in this game and Meis was ready to prove it. On third and nine Meis unloaded to a streaking Cook, who beat the defense downfield. The result was a 65-yard touchdown. The game would go into the second quarter tied 14-14.
Two play into the second quarter the game was no longer tied. Iowa’s HB Devante Earlycutt found the endzone on a short run to give the Hawkeyes a 21 to 14 lead.
The two-headed rushing attack of Blake Moon and Brandon Davis Jr led Auburn right down the field on the next drive. However, it would be FB Connor Seals who would seal the drive with a short touchdown run on the triple-option pitch. The game would once again be tied.
After the Auburn defense forced another Iowa punt the Tigers got right back to it. The Tigers’ six-play, 67-yard drive would end with a three-yard touchdown reception by Ethan Smoker. Moon’s third touchdown pass of the night would put Auburn back on top.
Iowa’s next drive would also end in a punt. Auburn started their drive with less than a minute to play before halftime. Moon’s brilliance on the ground and in the air where on full display on this drive. Auburn moved down the field quickly, but time was running out. On third and six from Iowa’s 12-yard line, the Tigers elected not to take a timeout. The ball was snapped with one second on the clock. It wouldn’t matter, however. Moon took off after not seeing anyone open and shouldered his way into the endzone for the last-second score. As the teams headed into the locker room, Auburn held a 14-point lead.
“It is only questionable play-calling if it doesn’t work.”-Matt Pack on Auburn not taking the timeout before the final play of the half.
It felt like Auburn might be pulling away after the second quarter. However, the Hawkeyes weren’t ready to give up yet. Earlycutt would lead the team down the field, but it would be the feet of Meis that found the endzone. The 13-yard read-option keeper would make the score 35 to 28.
Iowa would force Auburn to punt for the first time in the game on the next drive. Then the Hawkeyes would march down the field on a long, methodical drive that ended in a field goal. Iowa now trailed 35-31.
Auburn’s next drive looked great for a moment. Davis Jr broke what felt like 20 tackles on a spectacular run that pushed the ball to Iowa’s 23-yard line. A few plays later the Tigers would be on the three-yard line. However, Iowa’s Alvin Mack would bring Moon down well behind the line of scrimmage on third down. Auburn would kick the field goal at the start of the fourth quarter.
The 10 points by Iowa would be the only scores in what was a tame third quarter. This was just the calm before the storm. This game was far from over. In fact, more points would be scored after the end of the third than there had been up to that point.
After Auburn’s field goal made it 38 to 31, Iowa started its comeback attempt. It started with a 53-yard passing touchdown to Derek McFadden. In what seemed like the blink of an eye Iowa had tied the game back up.
Despite another incredible play by Davis Jr, Auburn would end its next drive with a punt. Iowa’s next drive was more methodical than their previous, but no less impressive. Meis kept finding his targets and kept the ball moving. Eventually, he would find Alex A Cook yet again in the endzone. It was Cook’s third touchdown catch of the game, which was still tied for the Iowa record when the school was removed from the league following Season 15.
That score would give Iowa a 45 to 38 lead. It was Iowa’s first lead since the score was 21 to 14.
Auburn started their next drive slowly, albeit productively. It was third and six on the Iowa 40-yard line. Moon snapped the ball, faked the handoff, and looked downfield. He quickly saw his man and released the ball. Ethan Smoker had torched his man off the line and had no one in front of him. The 60-yard touchdown pass tied the game once again.
Auburn felt like had Iowa right where they wanted them on the next drive. It was quickly third and 17 on Iowa’s 32-yard line. However, Meis completed a great pass out to wide-open WR Neal Mason for a 39-yard gain. On the next play, Earlycutt would take a screen pass to the house (yes, it is possible) for a Hawkeye touchdown. With one minute and two seconds on the clock, Iowa led by seven.
After the kickoff, there were only 58 ticks left in the game. Blake Moon stared down the field at the 71 yards in front of him. He needed a miracle drive to tie the game up. With ice in his veins, he delivered the miracle to the War Eagle faithful. On the final drive of the quarter Moon threw for 53 yards and rushed for another 17. He only threw one incompletion on the drive. With three seconds left Moon found WR Adam Smith in the endzone for a game-tying touchdown. We were headed for overtime.
All you can hear is Mike screaming and Matt Pack laughing.
Auburn won the toss and elected to defend. Iowa came out a little conservative but picked up a great pass over the middle to Mason to set them up with first and goal at the three. Meis would keep the read option on the next play and give Iowa the lead back, 59-52.
Moon didn’t waste much time answering back. Auburn through on all three plays of their possession in the first OT. The last pass was caught by Smoker at the 8-yard line. He slipped a tackle and scored to tie the game back up.
Auburn had the ball to start the second overtime period. Moon took a shot toward the endzone on the first down, but the ball was dropped. Perhaps this is why Moon decided to run it on both of the next two plays. The first would be a gain of nine to bring up third and short. The second would find the endzone. Auburn took back the lead, 66 to 59.
Iowa got the ball back and just like Moon, Meis would throw an incompletion on first down. However, Meis decided to go right back to the air. He found Cook for 24 and a half-yard gain. Had it been counted as a touchdown (and it looked to me like it was) it would have been Cook’s fourth. Earlycutt would punch it in on the next play. At 66 to 66, the game was headed to its third OT.
Iowa would once again start with the football. Meis only needed one play. He found Mason in a tight window for the score. I am sure you all know, but just as a reminder, in overtime in the CFSL you must go for two after every touchdown starting in the third OT. Meis dropped back looking for two points. He had room to run to his right, but trusted his arm and threw left. The ball went into a sea of bodies and fell to the turf harmlessly. The score was 72 to 66 and Auburn had a chance to win it.
On the first play of 3OT for Auburn Moon found Smith over the middle for more than enough for a first down. The walk-on had more than made up for his early mistake in this one. It was now first and goal from the seven. Moon threw to the flats and got his All-American HB, but the defense was quick to bring him down. The small gain made it second and goal from the four. On second down Moon would find another walk-on receiver (named Barrow; no last name, just Barrow) for the game-tying touchdown.
The game would now come down to this next play. If Auburn scores they win. If they don’t the game would continue to a fourth overtime. Moon snapped the ball from a pistol set. He looked for an open target, but none were open. He dropped his eyes, tucked the ball, and once again tried to put the team on his back. Moon would meet a linebacker at the goalline, push through him, and fall into the endzone. Moon and his Auburn Tigers would win the game over Iowa with the final score of 74-72.
Why This is the Greatest Game Ever Played
There are many reasons why this is considered the greatest game ever played. Here are a few:
The two teams combined for 1,346 total yards, 20 touchdowns, and ten lead changes. Those are stats you are not likely to find in any other CFSL game.
It was competitive from start to finish. There have been many great games in the CFSL, but some have a point where one team takes over or it was a comeback. The largest lead in this game was 14 and that didn’t last very long at all. Ten lead changes tell you that this was good from start to finish.
This might not have been a championship game or even a playoff game, but there was a lot on the line. Auburn was a borderline playoff team when they played Iowa. They would eventually get in, but they were in a three-way tie for third place (only teams would get in). If Auburn lost this game they wouldn’t have made the playoffs. They would eventually play for the National Championship later that season.
There have been many great games in the history of the CFSL, but this one still stands alone.