SEC Championship Game Memories

Christopher WoodleyContributor IIIDecember 2, 2011

SEC Championship Game Memories

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    On Saturday, the 20th SEC Championship Game will take place inside Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Since the inaugural game in 1992, nine teams that won the SEC Championship Game went on to win the national championship, including each winner from 2006 to 2010.

    From the first championship game at Birmingham's Legion Field to Cam Newton's performance last year, here is a list of memorable moments and/or performances from each of the first 19 SEC Championship games from 1992 to 2010.

1992: Langham's Game-Winning Interception

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    Birmingham's Legion Field was the site of the first SEC Championship Game between second ranked and undefeated Alabama and 12th ranked Florida on Dec. 5, 1992. Playing in front of more than 83,000 fans, most of whom cheering for Alabama, the Crimson Tide led the 21-7 in the third quarter. However, Florida responded with a pair of touchdowns to tie the game at 21 midway through the fourth quarter.

    With 3:25 remaining and the game still tied, Alabama cornerback Antonio Langham intercepted Florida quarterback Shane Matthews and raced 21 yards into the endzone with the eventual game-winning touchdown. Alabama held on to win, 28-21, and Langham earned MVP honors.

    Alabama followed their SEC Championship with the school's 12th national championship after routing top-ranked Miami, 34-13, in the Sugar Bowl. Runner-up Florida defeated North Carolina State, 27-10, in the Gator Bowl.

1993: The Fake

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    Ninth-ranked Florida and 16th ranked Alabama met on Dec. 4, 1993 in a rematch of the inaugural SEC Championship game.

    In what turned out to be the final SEC Championship game at Legion Field, Florida led 14-13 late in the third quarter. It was at this time that Florida head coach Steve Spurrier took a huge risk. On fourth-and-eight from their own 37 yard line, Gators punter Shayne Edge took the snap and ran 30 yards around the right end to give Florida a first down at the Alabama 43. One play later, Gators quarterback Terry Dean connected with Jack Jackson on a 43-yard touchdown pass as Florida earned a 28-13 triumph.

    Florida earned a trip to the Sugar Bowl and routed West Virginia, 41-7. Meanwhile, Alabama knocked off North Carolina, 24-10, in the Gator Bowl.

1994: The Tricky Gators

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    The venue changed, but the teams remained the same. While the site of the SEC Championship game moved from Birmingham, Ala. to Atlanta's Georgia Dome, the participants once again were third-ranked and undefeated Alabama and sixth-ranked Florida.

    Alabama led 23-17 in the fourth quarter before Florida put together the eventual game-winning drive with a pair of trick plays. 

    The first trick play occurred when Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel limped off the field with an apparent leg injury. Backup quarterback Eric Kresser entered the game and promptly connected with Ike Hilliard for a 25-yard reception to the Alabama 42 yard line. Wuerffel immediately returned to the game after missing only one play.

    Later in the drive, Florida head coach Steve Spurrier called for another trick play. With the ball at the Alabama 22, Wuerffel threw behind the line of scrimmage to Chris Doering. The Gators wide receiver then found Aubrey Hill for a 20-yard reception to the two yard line. Doering then hauled in a two-yard touchdown reception. The ensuing extra point by Judd Davis gave Florida their second consecutive SEC Championship with a 24-23 upset victory. 

    Florida earned their second consecutive trip to the Sugar Bowl, losing 23-17 to seventh ranked Florida State. Alabama went to the Citrus Bowl and defeated Ohio State, 24-17.

1995: Hanks You Very Much

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    For the first time, the SEC Championship game did not feature Florida and Alabama. The second-ranked and undefeated Gators were once again participated, but instead of Alabama, their opponent was 23rd ranked Arkansas.

    The Razorbacks scored first to take a 3-0 lead but found themselves trailing 24-3 in the third quarter. With Arkansas deep in Florida territory, Razorbacks quarterback Barry Lunney Jr. attempted a pitch. However, the ball was tipped and landed in the hands of Gators nickelback Ben Hanks, who raced 95 yards for a touchdown. Florida later added a field goal for a 34-3 victory and the Gators third consecutive SEC championship.

    Florida was invited to the Fiesta Bowl to face top-ranked Nebraska for the national championship. After a 31-point victory in the SEC championship, the Gators lost by 38 points, 62-24, to the Cornhuskers. Meanwhile, Arkansas faced North Carolina in the Carquest Bowl and lost, 20-10.

1996: Air Wuerffel

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    After a one-year hiatus, fourth-ranked Florida and 11th ranked Alabama met in the SEC Championship game for the fourth time in five years. The game featured Florida's top-ranked offense against Alabama's number one ranked passing defense.

    Florida quarterback and Danny Wuerffel, who did not face Alabama during the regular season, ripped apart the Crimson Tide defense for 401 passing yards and six touchdowns. He finished with three touchdown passes in each half as Florida won their fourth straight SEC championship with a 45-30 triumph.

    Reidel Anthony was on the receiving end of three touchdowns from Wuerffel, including a second quarter score that gave Florida the lead for good. Wuerffel, who would win the Heisman Trophy that season, earned MVP honors for the second consecutive SEC Championship game.

    Florida's win moved them to No. 1 in the AP poll, and the Gators faced third-ranked Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. A convincing 52-20 victory gave Florida the national championship. Alabama went to the Outback Bowl and defeated Michigan, 17-14.

1997: Nash's Dash

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    For the first time, the SEC Championship game did not feature either Florida or Alabama. The first time participants featured third-ranked Tennessee and 11th ranked Auburn.

    In the third quarter with Tennessee trailing, 27-17, Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning connected with Peerless Price for a 46-yard touchdown pass. However, Jeff Hall's extra point attempt was blocked. Auburn's Quinton Reese picked up the ball and raced to the end zone for two points and a 29-23 Tigers lead.

    Auburn still led 29-23 with 11 minutes remaining. Manning threw what appeared to be an innocent looking short pass to Marcus Nash. Instead, Nash broke a tackle in front of the Auburn sideline and ran 73 yards for the touchdown. Hall converted the extra point, and Tennessee held on to win 30-29 for their first SEC Championship. Manning finished 25-of-43 for 373 yards and was named the game's MVP.

    Earning a trip to the Orange Bowl, Tennessee dropped a 42-17 decision to Nebraska, who earned a share of the national championship. Auburn returned to Atlanta and defeated Clemson, 21-17, in the Peach Bowl.

1998: The Upset That Almost Was

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    Twenty-third ranked Mississippi State was a huge underdog to top-ranked and undefeated Tennessee. There was hope for the Bulldogs, however, as earlier in the day, undefeated Kansas State and UCLA both lost.

    Trailing 10-7 early the fourth quarter, Mississippi State's Kevin Prentiss hauled in a Tennessee punt from his own 17-yard line. Prentiss eluded two Volunteer tacklers as he began his return and then straddled the sidelines in front of the Bulldog players and coaches. Eighty-three yards later, Prentiss was celebrating in the end zone as Mississippi State grabbed a 14-10 advantage.

    Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Tennessee responded with a quick touchdown to retake the lead and then added another score en route to a 24-14 win and their second straight SEC Championship.

    Tennessee played second-ranked Florida State in the first BCS Championship Game in the Fiesta Bowl and won 23-16. Mississippi State was invited to the Cotton Bowl and lost to Texas, 38-11.

1999: Milons Run

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    For the fifth time in SEC Championship Game history, Florida and Alabama met for the conference title. Both teams entered the game at 9-2 with the Gators ranked fifth and the Crimson Tide coming in seventh in the nation.

    Earlier in the season, Alabama snapped Florida's 31-game home winning streak with a 40-39 overtime victory. The Gators were ready not only for revenge, but also an opportunity to defeat the Crimson Tide for the fourth time in the SEC Championship Game.

    Alabama entered the fourth quarter with a 15-7 lead. With the ball at their own 23-yard line, Crimson Tide running back Freddie Milons took the pitch from quarterback Andrew Zow. After attempting to run up the middle, Milons bounced off a Florida tackler and headed for the middle of the field. Milons then changed directions again and went towards the Florida sideline. He outran the Gators defense for a back-breaking 77-yard touchdown run, and a 23-7 Alabama lead.

    The Crimson Tide added two more touchdowns in a 19-point fourth quarter for a 34-7 win and Alabama's 21st SEC Championship. Milons won game MVP honors after rushing for 116 yards and a touchdown.

    Alabama played in the Orange Bowl, but suffered a 35-34 overtime loss to eighth-ranked Michigan. Florida lost to ninth-ranked Michigan State, 37-34, in the Citrus Bowl.

2000: Another SEC Championship Game, Another Gators Win

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    One year after their blowout loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, seventh-ranked Florida returned to the Georgia Dome to face 18th ranked Auburn. The Gators had dominated the Tigers, 38-7, in their regular season matchup. 

    The Gators, or specifically Rex Grossman and Reche Caldwell, put the game away early. After Auburn fumbled on their opening drive, Florida took advantage when Grossman found Caldwell for a 10-yard touchdown pass. Later in the first quarter, Caldwell took a pass from Grossman, delivered a stiff-arm to an Auburn defender, and outran the rest of the Tigers defense for a 66-yard touchdown reception.

    Florida never looked back and earned a 28-6 victory for their fifth win in the SEC Championship Game. The following month, Florida played in the Sugar Bowl, but lost, 37-20, to second-ranked Miami. In the Citrus Bowl, Auburn lost to Michigan, 31-28.  

2001: From the Bench to MVP

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    Tennessee appeared headed back to the BCS National Championship Game. The Volunteers entered the 2001 SEC Championship Game 10-1 and second ranked. Their opponent was 21st ranked LSU, who was playing in their first SEC Championship Game.

    Not only was LSU a huge underdog, but Tennessee also defeated LSU, 26-18, in the regular season matchup. To make matters worse, quarterback Rohan Davey was injured early and redshirt freshman Matt Mauck was forced to take over.

    Trailing 17-16 early in the fourth quarter and the ball at the Tennessee 13-yard line, Mauck weaved his way through the Volunteers defense for a 13-yard touchdown run. It was his second rushing touchdown of the game. On the two-point conversion attempt, Mauck completed a pass to Josh Reed to give LSU a 24-17 lead.

    LSU added another touchdown and the upset was complete with a 31-20 triumph. It was LSU's first SEC championship since 1988 and their first outright title since 1986.

    Even though he started the game on the bench, Mauck earned game MVP honors. He only passed for 67 yards, but Mauck also rushed 12 times for 43 yards and two touchdowns.

    After their upset win in the SEC Championship Game, LSU essentially played a home game with a 47-34 win over Illinois in the Sugar Bowl. Instead of having the opportunity to play Miami for the national championship, Tennessee settled for the Citrus Bowl against 17th ranked Michigan. The Volunteers won, 45-17.   

2002: Dogs vs. Hogs

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    The 2002 SEC Championship Game did not feature the SEC West Champion. Alabama won the division, but the Crimson Tide were on NCAA probation, prohibiting the team from postseason play. Instead, 22nd ranked Arkansas was declared the West Division champion after winning a three-way tie with Auburn and LSU. The Razorbacks opponent would be fourth-ranked Georgia.

    In their first appearance in the SEC Championship Game in 1995, Arkansas suffered a 34-3 loss to Florida. Their performance in the 2002 game was not much better. Georgia's Musa Smith ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs convincing 30-3 victory. In fact, Georgia led 17-0 before Arkansas even gained a yard.

    Smith earned game MVP honors as Georgia earned a trip to the Sugar Bowl to face 16th ranked Florida State. The Bulldogs won, 26-13. Arkansas settled for the Music City Bowl in Nashville and lost to Minnesota, 29-14.

2003: Run Justin, Run

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    On paper it appeared the 2003 SEC Championship Game would be an an excellent matchup. In a game featuring the last two SEC champions: third-ranked LSU faced fifth-ranked Georgia.

    LSU running back Justin Vincent set the tone of the game in the first quarter, and the Tigers never looked back.

    With just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter and the game scoreless, LSU had the ball at their own 13-yard line. Quarterback Matt Mauck pitched to Vincent, who was the beneficiary of several key blocks from LSU offensive lineman and wide receivers. Vincent broke towards the outside and outran Georgia defenders next to the LSU sideline. 

    LSU built a 17-0 lead en route to an easy 34-14 triumph. Vincent earned MVP honors after setting an SEC Championship Game record with 201 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The victory was the Tigers second SEC title in three years.

    With their victory, LSU moved up to No. 2 in the BCS rankings and faced top-ranked Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. With their 21-14 win over the Sooners, LSU claimed their first national championship since 1958. Meanwhile, Georgia defeated Purdue in overtime, 34-27, in the Citrus Bowl.   

2004: A Bittersweet Win

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    Third-ranked Auburn had something to prove entering the 2004 SEC Championship Game. The Tigers were 11-0, however, a victory over 15th ranked Tennessee would not guarantee them an opportunity to play for the national championship. Auburn knew they had to win big and hope for an Oklahoma loss in the Big 12 Championship Game.

    Auburn crushed Tennessee, 34-10, in the regular season. It appeared Auburn would run away with the SEC Championship Game after scoring two touchdowns in the first seven minutes for a 14-0 lead.

    Trailing 21-7 at halftime, Tennessee rallied with a pair of third quarter touchdowns, including an 80-yard touchdown run from Gerald Riggs, Jr. But Auburn did not panic as quarterback Jason Campbell found wide receiver Devin Aromashodu for a 53-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead. Auburn added a field goal and another touchdown to seal the 38-28 victory.

    Campbell, who was named the MVP, did everything he could to get Auburn a shot at the national championship. He finished 27-of-35 for 374 yards and three touchdowns. Combined with his 57 rushing yards, Campbell set an SEC Championship Game record with 431 yards of total offense.

    Oklahoma won the Big 12 Championship Game, and Auburn had to settle with a Sugar Bowl match-up against Virgina Tech. Even though the Tigers won, 16-13, Auburn players, coaches, and fans watched helplessly as USC clobbered Oklahoma, 55-19, in the Orange Bowl for the national championship (a title later vacated by USC for NCAA violations). Meanwhile, SEC runner-up Tennessee defeated Texas A&M, 38-7, in the Cotton Bowl.

2005: Bullying the Tigers

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    The 2005 SEC Championship Game was a rematch of the 2003 contest. While the score was the same, the victorious team was different.

    Third-ranked LSU, under first-year head coach Les Miles, were favored over 13th ranked Georgia. It would be the Bulldogs though that would avenge their 2003 defeat.

    Georgia jumped out to a 14-0 lead with a pair of first quarter touchdowns. After LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell's one-yard touchdown run cut the deficit to 14-7, the momentum of the game turned on a special teams play. 

    Georgia wide receiver Bryan McClendon broke through the line and blocked Chris Jackson's punt to give the Bulldogs to ball at the LSU 15-yard line. Three plays later, Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley took off and scored on a seven-yard touchdown run to give the Bulldogs a 21-7 lead. Georgia never looked back and cruised to a 34-14 upset victory.

    With the win, Georgia faced West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl, which was relocated to the Georgia Dome due to damage to the Superdome caused by Hurricane Katrina. Even though they were playing in front of a huge partisan crowd, the Bulldogs dropped a 38-35 decision to the Mountaineers. LSU also played their bowl game in the Georgia Dome, routing Miami in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, 40-3.

2006: A Fishy Decision

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    After a five-year absence, fourth-ranked Florida returned to the SEC Championship Game. Their opponent would be eighth-ranked Arkansas, whom the Gators routed 34-3 in the 1995 championship game.

    The game would be much closer for Arkansas, but unfortunately for the Razorbacks, it was the same outcome.

    After being outscored 64-6 in their first two SEC Championship Game appearances, it appeared Arkansas was headed down a similar road after falling behind 17-0 in the second quarter. However, the Razorbacks rallied for three straight touchdowns to grab a 21-17 lead midway through the third quarter.

    Arkansas seemed to have all of the momentum until arguably the most head-scratching play in SEC Championship Game history. Arkansas's Reggie Fish, who was filling in for the Razorbacks regular punt returner, was deep in his own territory to field a Florida punt. As the punt neared the ground, it appeared the ball would either land inside the five-yard line or in the end zone. For whatever reason, Fish attempted to catch the punt with an over-the-shoulder catch near his own goal line. Fish dropped the punt and the ball bounced into the end zone. Florida's Wondy Pierre-Louis fell on the ball for the touchdown and a 24-21 Gators lead.

    Arkansas scored a fourth touchdown but it was not enough as Florida claimed a 38-28 victory. The Gators win combined with a loss by No. 2 USC put Florida in the inaugural BCS Championship Game against top-ranked Ohio State. The Gators crushed the Buckeyes, 41-14, for their second national championship in 10 years. Arkansas, who dropped to 0-3 in SEC Championship games, settled for the Citrus Bowl, losing 17-14 to Wisconsin.  

2007: Tigers on the Prowl

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    In 2001, LSU upset Tennessee and prevented the Volunteers from playing for the national championship. Six years later, 14th ranked Tennessee had the chance to return the favor against fifth ranked LSU.

    The Volunteers grabbed a 14-13 lead late in the third quarter when quarterback Erik Ainge found Josh Briscoe for a six-yard touchdown pass. However, with just under 10 minutes remaining and Tennessee with the ball, the opportunistic LSU defense took control of the game. Tigers cornerback Jonathan Zenon stepped in front of a Tennessee receiver and returned an interception 18 yards for the eventual game-winning score. Quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, who earned MVP honors, added the two-point conversion for a 21-14 LSU lead. Later in the quarter, Darry Beckwith intercepted an Ainge pass deep in LSU territory to seal the victory.

    Thanks to losses by Missouri and West Virginia, who were both ranked ahead of LSU, the Tigers advanced to the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans against Ohio State. For the second consecutive season, an SEC team defeated the Buckeyes as LSU won, 38-24, to claim their second national championship of the decade. SEC runner-up Tennessee defeated Wisconsin, 21-17, in the Outback Bowl.   

2008: Lucky Seven for the Gators

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    For the sixth time, the SEC Championship game featured Florida and Alabama. The 2008 edition, however, had more on the line than any previous meeting. The Crimson Tide entered the game 12-0 and No. 1, while the Gators were right behind at 11-1 and No. 2.

    The game lived up to its hype as Florida overcame a strong Alabama defense.

    Alabama held a 20-17 lead going into the fourth quarter. After the Crimson Tide took the lead on a Leigh Tiffin field goal, the Gators started the ensuing drive at their own 38-yard line. Quarterback Tim Tebow led Florida into Alabama territory, and the Gators were beneficiaries of a critical penalty. On third down, running back Jeff Demps was stopped short of the first down marker. However, Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty to keep the drive alive. Demps later finished the drive with the eventual game-winning score on a one-yard touchdown run to put Florida ahead 24-20.

    Later in the quarter Tebow, who earned MVP honors, threw his third touchdown of the game with a five-yard strike to Riley Cooper for the 31-20 winning margin. It was Florida's seventh win in the SEC Championship Game.

    Florida continued their winning ways one month later in the BCS Championship Game with a 24-14 win over Oklahoma, their second title in three years. Alabama suffered their second consecutive loss as Utah upset the Crimson Tide, 31-17, in the Sugar Bowl.   

2009: No. 1 vs. No. 2: Part Deux

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    One year after No. 2 Florida knocked off top-ranked Alabama in the 2008 SEC Championship Game, the two teams met again in 2009 with undefeated records and their rankings reversed from the previous year.

    The game was close in the first half as Alabama took a 19-13 lead into halftime. After receiving the second half kickoff, Florida came up a yard short on a third-and-seven and were forced to punt. On the ensuing possession, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy found Marquis Maze for a 28-yard reception. The play also included a roughing the passer penalty on Florida's Jermaine Cunningham.

    Later in the drive, McElroy found Colin Peek for a 17-yard touchdown pass to put Alabama ahead, 26-13. Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram rushed for his third touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter to seal the 32-13 victory.

    After winning their third SEC Championship Game, Alabama advanced to the BCS Championship Game against Texas. The Crimson Tide's 37-21 win gave Alabama their 13th national championship. Florida ended the season with a convincing 51-24 win over Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl.

2010: Cam's World

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    Not only was Auburn undefeated and ranked first in the BCS poll, but the Tigers came into the 2010 SEC Championship Game off a thrilling comeback win over arch-rival Alabama. The SEC Championship Game turned out to be a much easier game for the Tigers. Their opponent, South Carolina, was making their first appearance in the championship game.

    After 28 combined points in the first quarter, 14 points were scored in the final 16 seconds of the second quarter. South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey caught a one-yard touchdown pass to cut the Auburn lead to 21-14.

    However, the momentum South Carolina gained was quickly erased on the final play of the first half. As Auburn quarterback Cam Newton heaved a Hail Mary pass, Gamecocks cornerback DeVonte Holloman deflected the ball. Unfortunately for South Carolina, the ball landed in the hands of Tigers receiver Darvin Adams for a 51-yard touchdown pass as time expired in the first half.

    After South Carolina missed a field goal on their first possession of the second half, Auburn took apart the Gamecocks defense and finishing with a 56-17 victory. Auburn set SEC Championship Game records with 589 yards of total offense, most points, and largest margin of victory. Newton won MVP honors after passing for 335 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 73 yards with two touchdowns. Adams also set a championship game record with 217 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

    Auburn completed the season with a 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS Championship Game for the program's first national championship since 1957. South Carolina returned to Atlanta and lost to Florida State, 26-17, in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.