AUBURN — Less than six minutes to go, game tied and season on the line. Onterio McCalebb took a handoff and darted to the left side and as he hit the edge, made a slight juke to his right and turned on the afterburners, blazing down the sideline to score the 70-yard game-winning touchdown.
The pivotal play came more than two years
ago when Auburn and LSU met in a battle of unbeaten teams, then No. 5 and 6 respectively, and set up the Tigers for a run to the BCS
McCalebb, who will play his final home game for Auburn (2-8, 0-7 SEC) on Saturday afternoon against Alabama A&M, said it was the greatest memory of his playing career.
“We had LSU come in here. Everybody said we were going to lose,” he said. “That whole year, we were fighting. It came down to everybody doing their job - from Cam (Newton) to the offensive line to all the receivers doing their job. The ball was in my hands and everybody was doing their jobs, so I had to take it the distance.”
McCalebb has not had a run as important as that one this season, not by a long shot. The senior tailback said it’s been hard to go from the success he experienced as a sophomore on 2010’s title team to the struggles of this season.
“Playing ball in every sport, you’re not going to win every game,” McCalebb said. “It’s like a lesson learned. Auburn will have another year next year to finish up strong. It’s a game that everybody plays and everybody loves. You just can’t win them all.”
McCalebb’s production has also dropped this season due to the emergence of Tre Mason and because with the Tigers trailing so often, the running game has been abandoned in an effort to come back in games.
McCalebb has 76 carries for 469 yards with four touchdowns and 15 receptions for 83 yards this season. He’ll need 20 carries and 97 yards in the next two games to avoid career-lows – he had 96 carries in 2010 and 565 yards in 2009.
“That’s not my call about who gets the ball and who doesn’t get the ball. I do what I can. I play my part to help the team win,” said McCalebb, who also has 19 kickoff returns for 450 yards this season, including a 100-yard touchdown return against Mississippi State. “My individual season has gone pretty good. I wish it had gone better. You’ve just got to keep fighting. That’s the way life it. You’re going to have some downs throughout life.”
Despite a brutal season, McCalebb has been one of the leaders on and off the field. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler appreciates the commitment McCalebb has shown in the face of adversity.
“He’s kept his poise, he’s kept his leadership, he shows up at practice every day and gives it his all and that’s what a senior is supposed to do,” Loeffler said. “Regardless if you’re undefeated or having the season we’re having, that’s what your seniors do. They’re supposed to lead, they’re supposed to demand the expectations at practice and I think he’s done that.”
When he looks back on his time on the Plains, McCalebb believes he’ll be able to forget this disappointing senior season and remember being a part of a championship squad.
“After this last game, after we play Alabama, I believe I’m going to be able to forget about this year and move on. I have to move on with my life,” he said. “I’ll be a man and I’ll be out there in the real world doing the things I want to do. I definitely didn’t want to have a season like this, but you win some and you lose some.
“Ten years from now, I’m going to look back and say something a lot of people can’t say: I won a national championship.”