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December 21, 2012TUSCALOOSA | When John Copeland played in his last football game against Auburn, he helped the University of Alabama earn a 17-0 victory on Nov. 26, 1992.
Copeland and fellow senior Eric Curry earned All-America honors. Both were defensive ends on what was considered the best defense in the country.
Auburn came in with a 5-4-1 record. Alabama, which rallied to beat Mississippi State 30-21 the week before, was 10-0 and ranked No. 2. The Crimson Tide had already clinched a berth in the first Southeastern Conference Championship Game as the Western Division champion.
"Auburn was down, but they were still Auburn," Copeland said, looking back two decades later. "As a player growing up in the state of Alabama, you always look forward to that football game. It doesn't matter what the stakes are, no matter how many games you've won or no matter how many games they have lost. You still want to go in there and beat them."
Alabama's defense limited the Tigers to 139 total yards, including 20 rushing yards on 28 attempts. Quarterback Stan White was sacked five times.
Copeland had five solo tackles, three assists and a sack. Curry had four solo tackles, three assists and two sacks.
"We went in knowing we should dominate the football game on defense," said Copeland, now defensive coordinator at Tuscaloosa Academy, which won its first AISA Class AAA championship this year. "It was a really tight ballgame if you look at it from a complete game perspective. But if you look at their offense against our defense, we absolutely dominated that football game. I think Auburn came out and gave us the best they had, but their best just wasn't good enough."
Auburn fought Alabama to a scoreless tie in the first half. Defensive back Antonio Langham intercepted a pass in the third quarter and scored on a 61-yard return. Michael Proctor kicked a 47-yard field goal later in the third quarter. Sherman Williams scored on a 15-yard run in the fourth quarter.
"Langham came up big in the Mississippi State game," Copeland said. "It was no surprise to any of us that Langham was picking the ball off and running it in for a touchdown."
The Alabama players found out the night before that it would be the last game for Auburn coach Pat Dye, who resigned after 12 seasons, nine bowl appearances and four SEC championships. Dye, a former Georgia player and Alabama assistant coach, resigned amid an NCAA investigation that resulted in the Auburn football program being on probation for the 1993 season.
"We knew just from watching TV that he was going to retire after that football game," Copeland said. "We kind of talked among ourselves a little bit. Let's send him off on a sad note. We didn't want him going into that Auburn locker room and saying, 'Win one for the Gipper.' We wanted to nip that in the bud when we first went out on the football field."
Alabama shut out the Tigers for the first time since 1975, and it was the only shutout loss for Auburn during Dye's tenure as head coach.
Reach Andrew Carroll at email@example.com or at 205-722-0223.