Wuerffel was being supplied with ample time to take his three-step drop, find the open man and deliver. But that changed in the second half when Atkins nailed Wuerffel twice to stop two Gator drives. The son of late Auburn great Billy Atkins, the 213-pound Ace has written an unpublished spy novel and studied taekwondo, but before Saturday he had not had a tackle all season. "I've never been a part of a game like this one," he said afterward. "It was like a movie. I don't think that Hollywood or Robert Altman could have scripted it better for us."
Meanwhile, Bowden junked his pre-game strategy and went to the air, with quarterback Stan White hitting Dillard High's Sanders on intermediate routes to set up the run. White would finish with 23 completions in 35 attempts for 267 yards and, more important, earn the respect of Auburn fans who have treated him unfairly in his four seasons as a starter. Working under three different quarterback coaches, White has been erratic, with 49 career interceptions against 35 TD throws, but he has also been courageous, standing tall as first the pocket and then the team collapsed around him. Now, with Bowden scripting the plays and not demanding that the quarterback be the hero, White feels more self-assured. "We're not a team that's going to go out and throw 50 times, like Florida," White says. "We've got a balanced attack."
Auburn's revised game plan loosened up the Gator defensive backfield and created a bit of room for Bostic, which was more than enough. At six feet and 224 pounds, he may be the most fiercely aggressive ball carrier in the land. "He's going to run over you or through you," says Tiger fullback Reid McMillon.
Bostic has a sweet disposition off the field and will gently explain how his football career nearly ended when he was a junior in high school. Thinking the pain in his left leg was only shin splints, he played a Friday night game and rushed for 200-plus yards. The next day his leg swelled from thigh to ankle, and his foot turned blue. He was whisked to a hospital emergency room and rushed into surgery to remove a blood clot. "A couple of more hours," Bostic says, "and they'd have had to amputate my leg."
And so he runs now as if each carry were his last. That may partly explain the 76 yards he gained on 17 attempts against a Florida defense stacked to stop him and the four-yard touchdown he scored with 13:40 left in the fourth quarter to give Auburn its first lead, 28-27. On fourth-and-one, White pitched to Bostic, who faced two problems: 1) He had no blockers, and 2) Florida linebacker Dexter Daniels had both hands on him three yards behind the line of scrimmage. But Bostic blasted through Daniels's grasp—if not Daniels himself—and into the end zone. "I wasn't going to let him tackle me," Bostic said. "I had my second effort."
The fifth member of the Dillard gang, Robinson, was heard from three series later. Blitzing, Robinson forced Wuerffel to float a pass that Tiger cornerback Chris Shelling picked off and returned 65 yards, setting up a nine-yard TD reverse by Sanders to make the score 35-27, Auburn. Florida responded by marching 81 yards to tie the game with 5:44 left. On Auburn's next possession, White's third-and-eight pass from his own 42 sailed high, and the Tigers seemed to have stalled with barely four minutes to play. But Gator safety Lawrence Wright had nailed the intended receiver, Sanders, out of bounds, and the 15-yard personal-foul penalty kept the Auburn drive alive for Etheridge's kick. "I'm putting this loss on my shoulders," Wright said later.
Among his fellows from Fort Lauderdale, Sanders is an anomaly. Unlike Bostic with his panther or Mounds with his cat or Robinson with his tiger or Jackson with his eight ball (witch's claw attached), Sanders has no tattoo. "I'm the one who knows what to do with money," he says. "Otis probably has two, three hundred dollars in tattoos on his body." In addition, Sanders admits that after watching Florida's four-wideout sets and wide-open attack, he has occasional pangs of regret about having chosen Auburn. "That's a receiver's dream right there," he says of the Gator offense.
But the pangs, like the Tigers, eventually pass. "A lot of people thought we made a bad decision to come here," Sanders said after the game. "But this shows Auburn is a great program." Besides dropping Florida to 5-1 and dampening its national championship hopes, Auburn's victory paved the way for some verbal payback by the Dillard gang come summertime, particularly against Rhett, who is known for his nonstop chatter. "Those five guys live right down the street from me," Rhett lamented. "Now they've got bragging rights, and I don't have another chance to play against Auburn."
In some respects NCAA probation has been a plus for the Tigers; they have remained relatively free of expectations and pressure. "That's the positive—you can relax a little," Bowden says. "The negative is, the closer you get to having a good season, the more you realize what they have taken away from you."