TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- With Alabama's national championship hopes appearing to slip through its grasp against rival Auburn for a second consecutive season, Amari Cooper caught them and wouldn't let go.
The Crimson Tide junior caught 13 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns, electrifying a second-half crowd to erase a 12-point deficit and lead Alabama to a 55-44 win in the Iron Bowl. The performance tied Cooper's school single-game record of 224 yards, which he established at Tennessee earlier this season. It also kept Alabama's playoff hopes alive as it enters the SEC Championship Game next week against Missouri.
But it didn't come the least bit easily.
Auburn's offense was unstoppable in the first half, amassing 383 yards as Nick Marshall completed deep passes of 42, 34, 68 and 40 yards, much of it to junior Sammie Coates. Auburn rallied for 10 points in the final minute of the first half and led 36-34 entering the fourth quarter. From there, Alabama's offense closed the win with three touchdown drives against a worn-out Auburn defense, the last of which covered 92 yards on six consecutive rushing plays. Running back Derrick Henry carried for 49 yards on the drive and capped the series with a 25-yard score. The teams combined for 1,171 yards of offense, 630 of which were Auburn's.
Cooper, one of the nation's top underclassmen, will decide after the season whether to enter the 2015 NFL Draft. The deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 15.
Alabama quarterback Blake Sims overcame three interceptions, the last of which prompted backup quarterback Jacob Coker to begin warming up on the sideline early in the third quarter. Sims finished 20 of 27 for 312 yards and four touchdown passes, and chipped in with another 23 yards rushing and an 11-yard scoring run.
It turned out to be the highest-scoring Iron Bowl in the 79-game history of the series, breaking a 45-year-old record of 75 points.
The senior Marshall completed 27 of 43 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns. Coates, another talented junior who will have a much-anticipated early-entry decision, caught five passes for 206 yards and two scores.
A few other key performances from some of the top pro prospects in the game:
» Auburn WR Duke Williams caught seven passes for 121 yards, including an incredible joint-possession call on a vicious collision with another top prospect, Alabama safety Landon Collins.
» Collins was credited with nine tackles and a pass breakup.
» Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon rushed 19 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns.