Tigers win 32-31 thriller against rival Tide

I ran down the narrow corridor as fast as my legs would carry me. 

The ominous ticking sound of a second hand filled the void above me, but the clock that the noise was emitting from was nowhere to be found.

There were several times when the cramped hallway I was barreling down came to a fork, forcing me into hasty decisions. I made left and right turns without any rhyme or reason just hoping to find my way out.

I finally reached what I believed to be the end of the labyrinth signaled by a portal of bright light. I reached out for what lied beyond the shining partition only for my hand to be met by the coarse, rough exterior of a brick and mortar wall.

My eyes opened to the darkness of my bedroom, and I sat up to greet the all too familiar feeling of failure.

Recurring dreams are not a rare phenomenon to the human experience, and the substance of these fantasies are as varied as the stars in the sky.

My recurring dream revolves around me trying to escape a maze that always results in reaching a dead end. For the last 10 years, LSU football fans have had a similar recurring dream about playing the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, this dream has been more along the lines of a nightmare, and the nightmare has been less than dream and more of a reality.

Since the 2012 regular season, the Alabama-LSU game has been a rivalry in name only. Yes, the Tide have narrowly avoided defeat a few times in that span (namely 2012, 2014, and 2021), but Alabama had won nine of the last 10 in the time after the ill-fated 2011 national championship game.

The one loss the Tide suffered in that stretch was considered by many as a flash-in-the-pan defeat to the 2019 LSU Tigers, the greatest college football team of all time.

For years, it felt as though penciling in a loss to Alabama before the season began was the lot in life for the LSU football team and its fans, at least until Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban retires.

Year after year, nightmarish loss after nightmarish loss all coming on the heels of wasted hype videos and empty hope. The week before the Alabama game always gives the appearance of a visible light at the end of the tunnel until the game reminds us that we’re actually staring at the same brick wall we’ve already seen so many times.

Then, Brian Kelly arrived on campus to assume the role of LSU head coach, and hope of escaping the never-ending maze began to feel more concrete.

The rest of the country doubted the hire despite the call of patience from rational Tiger fans. However, a heartbreaking one-point loss to Florida State to open the season and a shellacking by No. 8 Tennessee in Baton Rouge did not quell the naysayers from pointing and laughing at LSU’s new coach.

Nevermind the fact that LSU finished the 2021 season with 39 scholarship players on its roster. Nevermind that a team full of transfers had to learn a completely different philosophy from a brand new coaching staff.

The critics claimed that if Kelly was such a good coach, then he should win. Period.

Kelly listened.

For much of the contest between No. 6 Alabama and No. 10 LSU, it felt as though I was watching a “will-they-won’t-they” romance plot from a 90’s sitcom. The Tigers led 7-6 at halftime only to fall behind and take the lead several more times. There were nine total lead changes in the game.

From a performance standpoint, LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, running backs John Emery, Jr. and Josh Williams, and wide receivers Malik Nabers and Kayshon Boutte all deserve tips of the hat.

Defensively, Joe Foucha, Micah Baskerville, and Jarrick Bernard-Converse came up with exceptional plays, but it was the combination of Harold Perkins, Jr. and BJ Ojulari that truly made the night difficult for Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young.

And, no, I did not forget about LSU’s Mason Taylor. The true freshman tight end hauled in three receptions, and two of those catches were the most impactful ones of the evening.

With less than five minutes left in the 4th quarter, Alabama’s Young was engulfed in a mass of bodies in the pocket before magically emerging and finding Ja’Corey Brooks for the wide-open, go-ahead score.

The deafening Tiger Stadium crowd that had produced an electric atmosphere all night fell as silent as the Middleton library on finals week as Alabama took the lead with a 21-17 score.

My friend standing next to me turned and said, “It feels like the TJ Yeldon year,” and I shivered at the thought of watching such a disappointing finish again.

Apparently, the audience at home was forced to think about the same game as the ESPN broadcast showed the Yeldon screen pass highlight that led Alabama to victory in 2012.

LSU fans everywhere were instantly thrown back into the recurring nightmare that they had feared. After hours of the back-and-forth war of attrition, the Crimson Tide had found a way to squeak out another victory.

This time would prove to be different though. This time the Tiger coaching staff had the competence to handle the pressure of needing a score, and the offense executed.

A 31-yard Daniels run on 3rd and 5 set the Tigers up in an ideal spot at the Alabama 39 yard line. LSU would prove to once again be nails in the clutch, this time on 3rd and 7 with a 14-yard run from Williams. On 1st and goal, Daniels threw a perfect pass to Taylor in the back of the end zone to retake the lead.

Death Valley erupted, but the game was far from finished.

The Tide pushed the ball down the field and kicked a field goal to tie the game at 24 at the end of regulation.

As the nerves of 102,321 people rattled around the concrete confines of Tiger Stadium, an ethereal fog began to settle on the field. 

In the week leading up to the game, much was made about the atmosphere and mystique of Death Valley at night. The noise lived up to the hype, but it wasn’t quite magical yet. 

Then, the fog rolled in from the Mississippi River.

Of course, to meteorologists and weather experts, what everyone in the stadium experienced that night was elemental water in its gaseous form that condensed as a vapor in the air. 

Otherwise, known as fog.

However, ask any LSU fan about the “fog,” and they’ll tell you something almost unbelievable.

Was the mist really the ghosts of Tiger legends long past gathering together to watch the final moments before the pandemonium? Was it some sort of cajun voodoo about to make its presence felt on the field?

It was probably just fog. Probably.

Alabama drew first blood in overtime thanks to a 3rd and goal run from running back Roydell Williams, and Saban opted to kick the extra point as any sane coach would decide.

LSU immediately responded on the first offensive play of its overtime possession with a 25-yard touchdown on a Daniels keeper.

As the Tiger quarterback trotted into the end zone, myself and the entire section around me held up two fingers hoping against hope that Kelly would feel our plea and go for two points because we are all insane.

Kelly is more bold than he is insane, but his boldness led him to a similar conclusion: don’t keep playing in overtime. Go for the win now.

After a brief time out, the LSU offense lined up on the 3-yard line to run a play, and for the first time in a long time, it was Alabama and Saban who showed confusion. The Tide sprinted off the 12th defender on the field, and the Tigers snapped the ball.

Daniels rolled to his right and once again found Taylor open, this time on the near sideline. The freshman caught the ball, fell into the end zone, and the rest is history. Fans energized by what could only be described as euphoric exhaustion stormed the Tiger Stadium field.

I can tell you as someone on the field that night, looking up at the 32-31 final on the stadium scoreboards blanketed by fog, it felt as though we were living in the version of the dream where we finally made it out of the maze. 

Finally, we had broken through to the other side and had stepped into the light.

What does any of this mean moving forward?

Well, despite what some people will try to sell you, Alabama’s dynasty is not finished although we may be witnessing the beginning of the home stretch. The labyrinth that the Tigers will have to traverse to victory next year could be just as difficult as any other year, but now there is a big difference.

That difference is expectation.

From here on out, LSU and its fans shouldn’t hope to have coaches and players that can out-execute and out-scheme the Crimson Tide. They should now expect that reality.

With the 2022 Alabama game squarely in the rearview mirror, the 2022 season still has twists and turns left. As of now, LSU has far larger goals to play for that many, including myself, said the team would never reach. 

If the Tigers keep winning games, they will find themselves playing for the Southeastern Conference crown in Atlanta, something I didn’t expect to be typing this year.

Win that, and…. 

Let’s hold off on that for now.

However, it is appropriate to be extremely optimistic of the future of the program whether or not the Tigers make it to Atlanta and whether or not they win or lose that game. It is, after all, year one with Kelly at the helm, and the team is already exceeding expectations after finishing with an 11-12 record in the last two seasons.

At this point, I’m sure LSU fans no longer need to convince anyone that the best of the Brian Kelly era has yet to come.

For those that still doubt, I invite you to keep watching this dream-like 2022 LSU football season.

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