Bo Nix met K.J. Britt, there in the heat of an intense halftime in the Auburn locker room.
“33, I’ll carry you off the field if I have to,” Nix called out to his brother in arms at middle linebacker.
Auburn had just kicked a frantic field goal to make it a four-point game at the half. The Tigers hit the locker room doors on fire. They huddled and regrouped. Coaches surely shouted out adjustments. Heart rates soared.
This was the Iron Bowl. It was all riding on this.
And in that moment, Auburn’s leaders looked to each other for strength.
“10, I’ll carry you off the field,” Britt promised right back to his quarterback.
After that, there was nothing left for them to do but to go lay it all out — and to go beat Alabama.
Auburn’s team leadership held together all season through ups and downs in a roller-coaster season on the Plains, and last Saturday in the Iron Bowl, the team finally put it all together on the field to win the biggest game of the year 48-45.
The offense made big plays. The defense made big plays. Special teams played perfect. And after the sinking depths of The Swamp and Death Valley and the rivalry heartbreak two weeks before in the same stadium, the Tigers finally proved to everyone on the outside just why they believed in each other for so long.
Britt recounted his halftime exchange with Nix after the game, as the fans rolled Toomer’s Corner. The team’s vocal leader on offense and its vocal leader on defense made that promise to one another in the face of their greatest battle yet.
Back out on the field, the rest of the team charged ahead right with them, all the way to the end — and all the way until they were back in that locker room together roaring over the sweetest of victories.
“We had ups and downs, but nobody divided us,” head coach Gus Malzahn shouted over that jubilant postgame celebration, as seen on video released on the program’s Auburn Football Review show.
Troubling storms blew over Auburn after disappointed losses this season for the Tigers in two of college football’s most feared environments, at Florida and at LSU. Even with that strange rivalry-game magic hanging in the air over Jordan-Hare Stadium against Georgia, Auburn’s big fourth-quarter comeback bid in that game came up short.
But Saturday, Auburn pulled together again, and Auburn was undeniable again.
“That’s one thing I can say about our team: We’ve got great leadership and we’re never going to let any outsiders divide us, no matter what,” sophomore safety Smoke Monday said. “We’re going to lose as a team and we’re going to win as a team. That’s how it is.”
The players never seemed to point fingers this season, even when things looked so bleak. The defense never seemed to blame the offense when the team wasn’t scoring enough points to win, and there were never visible cracks, even when the team was at its lowest.
Saturday, Auburn’s resolve was rewarded on the most important night of the season.
“It’s bigger than us, man,” Britt said. “I told the team today that everybody’s got their hometown; J.D. (Jeremiah Dinson) is from Miami; people are from Atlanta; people are from Alabama. But today, everybody is from Auburn. Just defend Auburn like it’s your hometown.
“That’s what we did.”
Nix saw that in his teammates as well.
“If you have guys on your team like that, a lot of guys from Alabama who understand the rivalry, and you refuse to lose and have guys feeding off that, you’ll be hard to beat,” Nix said. “And tonight, we just refused to lose and we battled to the end of the game.”
Malzahn called on the seniors in the postgame celebration, and so have Nix and Britt throughout the season. It doesn’t start with them. From Dinson and Daniel Thomas to Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, to the seniors on Auburn’s offensive front, the Tigers’ glue has held together this season from the top down.
But Nix and Britt are the leaders of Auburn’s future, Nix being a freshman at quarterback and Britt being a junior first-year starter at middle linebacker — playing the two positions that everyone on the offense and defense, respectively, look to and hear from. Nix hasn’t shied from the spotlight ever since arriving at Auburn. Britt watched Deshaun Davis lead his defense a season ago, and saw how he worked together with Jarrett Stidham to keep the team together in tough times.
Now, after finally winning the big game for the seniors, the leadership seems as strong as ever going into 2020.
“Me and Bo, we had a talk before the game even started,” Britt said, adding to his story from halftime. “We had a talk pregame. And I told him, I said, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m going to give it all I’ve got.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to give it all I’ve got.’
“So we just make sure that we’re uplifting each other. … Being the quarterback on both sides of the ball, I mean that’s something — all eyes on you — but we’ve got to do our job and do what we’ve got to do,” he said.
Saturday, it seemed like they had to leave it all out there. They did just that — just as promised.