LaDarius Owens made two trips to Toomer’s Corner between 2010 and 2013.
His first trek to the intersection of College Street and Magnolia Avenue was a memorable one and came during his official visit to Auburn. The second? Unforgettable. It followed what the former defensive end still calls the best moment of his college football career: An Iron Bowl victory clinched by a 109-yard return of a missed field goal as time expired.
Before Owens could reach the intersection of College Street and Magnolia Avenue, he first needed to pave a path. The redshirt junior cemented that when he finished the final block of the return along the Tigers' sideline, enabling Chris Davis, the Tigers' shifty returner, to complete the improbable game-winning play.
Davis was the hero, sending Auburn to the SEC Championship and ultimately the BCS National Championship. But he didn’t get from one end zone to the other alone. We caught up with a few of the Tigers’ special- teamers to hear their memories of the incredible Kick Six.
How the return happened
Davis ventured 10 strides and roughly 14 yards out of his own end zone before a slight change of direction toward the Auburn sideline, the only open-field maneuver he’d make for the next 95 yards. You can see the wall of blockers he had here:
Alabama’s field-goal unit, suddenly forced to defend, was first met by Cassanova McKinzy at Auburn’s 15-yard line. Ryan Smith followed with a block upfield as Davis advanced toward the 50.
What appeared to be the Tide’s best chance at a stop came near midfield. But Kris Frost (#17, below) chipped away at that chance with his shoulder and Owens (#10) finished the hit, creating a seal along the boundary. Davis sprinted toward the end zone as a roar rippled through Jordan-Hare Stadium, the crowd beginning to grasp what was unraveling before its eyes.
“Once he caught it I knew we had a chance,” Owens told NCAA.com. “At that point I was just looking for somebody to block.
“When I saw Frost got the guy that I was going to get, I just wanted to make sure nobody got close.”
NEXT CHAPTER: Everything to know about the 2019 Iron Bowl
Many, if not all 87,000 plus sets of eyes were on Davis. What spectators and cameras alike might have missed was Owens, well out of frame, attempting his best Deion Sanders high-step, though he still admits it resembles a skip more than any Primetime impersonation. Smith trailed him, arms raised once Davis found daylight, pumping his helmet to the sky as if he’d scored.
Blocking is part of the job on any special teams assignment. But to both Owens and Smith, it was more precautionary. That’s because both believed Davis would be off to the races once the return began.
“I kind of got ahead of myself,” Smith joked. “Once I saw him catch the ball, I knew he was going to return the ball in how he was setting it up.”
Smith was originally supposed to field the kick. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called a time out and that doubled as an opportunity for Davis and Smith to switch places. Still, Smith's trust never wavered and the sight of Davis approaching midfield was the only necessary validation.
Sure, Davis was one of the top returners in the SEC. But this was a loyalty extending far beyond numbers. It just felt right.
The improbability of the Kick Six is much more than a return or a few well-timed blocks. In fact, it started as a routine tackle. Or so Davis thought when he made contact with T.J. Yeldon at the Alabama side line.
A 24-yard gain was initially ruled the final play of the fourth quarter after the sophomore broke loose from Alabama’s 38-yard line. The Crimson Tide’s decision to operate out of the backfield with seven seconds remaining appeared harmless until Yeldon reached the Auburn 38.
The ensuing review is one of the more interesting ‘what if’ questions surrounding the 2013 Iron Bowl. A lack of evidence to overturn the ruling would have ended regulation and erased any chance at a field goal or a game-winning return.
Officials added 1 second to the game clock. Auburn — once trailing by two touchdowns and well-versed in late-game heroics — would still need one more stop to regroup in overtime.
The fate of their season rested on the shoulders of the back-to-back national champions and the leg of Adam Griffith. That’s right, a true freshman would decide the SEC West from 57 yards out.
Nick Saban had a steady leg in Cade Foster, who up until the Iron Bowl, missed one kick over the course of the season. Griffith came on instead of the veteran Foster, whose trio of missed field goals prompted a change.
Owens was set up on the field-goal unit for Auburn, the same group that blocked Foster once earlier in the game. He was sure A.J. McCarron, 36-2 as a starter coming into the game, and the rest of the Crimson Tide offense would be on the field after a timeout. Instead, the eventual Heisman runner-up, first-team All-American and Maxwell Award winner was a spectator on the play that would decide the SEC West.
Still, the idea of a kick return had yet to enter the mind of the Tigers' defense.
“Our goal as a front was to block the kick” Owens said. “If anything, we were hoping to block it and get a return that way.”
A week after the ‘Prayer at Jordan-Hare’— a pass twice tipped by Georgia’s defense caromed into the arms of Ricardo Louis for a game-winning touchdown — Davis delivered the Tigers something even greater: redemption.
Auburn last beat Alabama in 2010, the same year the Tigers' won the BCS National Championship. The Tide had the upper hand in the next two meetings, winning by a combined score of 91-14, including a 49-0 drubbing at Jordan-Hare. As Smith puts it, the Tigers "had their eyes beat in."
What Auburn needed was a fresh start. Malzahn was hired to right the ship after the program's worst season in 62 years. When Jordan-Hare cleared out on the night of Nov. 30, 2013, and the masses reached Toomer's Corner, the Tigers' clean slate stood before them.
"It literally looked it was snowing," Owens said. "It was white, everything was rolled with tissues. Buildings, trees, traffic lights, it was a beautiful time."