Roy Upchurch paced along the amped-up visiting sideline of Jordan Hare Stadium with one request: “Put me in!”

Amid an intense exchange of fourth-quarter timeouts between No. 2 Alabama and an upset-minded Auburn, a Crimson Tide staffer tried to steady the reserve senior running back like a jockey would his thoroughbred behind the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby: “Hold on, hold on, hold on,” followed by, “get ready, get ready, get ready.”

For what seemed like the first time all season, an ascending Alabama squad — arguably the most dominant ever — trailed its bitter cross-state rivals 21-20 with less than a minute and a half remaining in the 2009 Iron Bowl.

Following a pair of tough 4- and 3-yard runs from Trent Richardson set up third-and-3 at the Tigers’ 4-yard line, Alabama’s Nick Saban reconsidered an initial run call and went with his gut, instead opting for a play that had only been run in practice that season: “North Peter pass.”

Coming out in the team’s goal-line jumbo package with 340-pound nose guard Terrance Cody as the offset fullback and Upchurch serving as the lead blocker in the I-formation, all signs pointed to another run up the middle.

Only this time, rather than handing the ball off to Richardson again, Tide quarterback Greg McElroy kept it and rolled to his right before firing a quick strike to Upchurch as he crossed into end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

“I think that catch really kind of solidified my college career just because I really had to fight for playing time ... due to injuries,” Upchurch said this week. “(But) all the time I put into getting (healthy) was really gratifying, … and I think that catch kind of helped (that 2009) team really put Alabama on that pedestal (as a national) dynasty where we will forever be remembered.”

As Upchurch described it a decade later, his memorable touchdown catch was “the icing on the cake” of what has since been known as “The Drive” — a 15-play, 79-yard series that took up 7:03 and secured Alabama’s 26-21 come-from-behind victory in the 2009 Iron Bowl.

A week later, Alabama got revenge with a 32-13 win over No. 1 Florida in the SEC Championship game, avenging a disappointing defeat the season prior, and then won the national title with a 37-21 win against Texas — the first of five national titles under Saban.

And it all started because of that unstoppable 15-play drive in Auburn.

“That was really our statement,” former Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “And when we beat Florida that year it was sort of a changing of the guard in college football, that we were the team to beat for the next few years. … I thought it was huge. And obviously that drive, we wouldn’t have been in the national championship game without making that drive there and winning that (Iron Bowl) game to have the opportunity.”

A four-loss Auburn team came in hoping to play spoiler even though the unbeaten Crimson Tide had already locked up the West and had a rematch with the reigning national champion Gators, and promptly took an early 14-0 advantage.

“The game started off so rocky you didn’t know the outcome of what was going to happen,” Upchurch remembered. “Auburn came out with a couple of trick plays and they jumped ahead of us, and we really weren’t expecting that. Being the dominant team that we were, we felt like we could control the game, because the year before we blew them out (36-0) and going into that game we felt it would be a repeat of the year before.”

Alabama pulled even by halftime, but a 72-yard touchdown from quarterback Chris Todd to Darvin Adams put the Tigers back on top, 21-14, 4 minutes into the third quarter.

Alabama answered with two field goals to stay within striking distance, 21-20, entering the fourth quarter.

“I just remember that was finally our opportunity, we got a stop and we all just kind of looked at each other and knew it was now or never,” Jones said.

Backed up at its own 21-yard-line with 8:27 left, Alabama simply wanted to gain some field position and put itself into a better spot to potentially make a late push.

“We just wanted to methodically put some drives together and get (ourselves) into position to put together a two-minute drive if necessary,” McElroy recalled. “But once we started to kind of chip away at it and get going a little bit, we started to get slightly more aggressive.”

Seven straight completions moved the ball to the Auburn 30.

At that point, McElroy caught a glimpse of the game clock — which flashed under 3 1/2 minutes remaining — and time suddenly became a factor.

Following a 1-yard run by eventual Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Mark Ingram, who was banged up on the play, McElroy found Richardson for a 17-yard gain just outside the 10-yard-line.

Two more Richardson runs set the stage for what is arguably the play that would set in motion not only the rest of that season, but Alabama’s entire dynasty over the next dozen-plus years under Saban.

“I think we drew a lot of confidence from that game really, just (in terms of) our ability to fight through adversity and make plays when we had to,” Jones said. “I think you have to do that a few times in big situations before you really believe as a team, so I think that was definitely a big moment for us … and in that moment, everything came together. It really was a pretty perfectly executed drive on almost every play we ran.”

Added McElroy: “That’s about as tough as it gets. You’re on the road, hostile environment, nothing really going your way all day, the ball was bouncing against you. And to be able to put a drive like that together collectively as a group showed us that regardless of the circumstances, we can find a way. And at that point moving forward, it was over.”

A season later, after Alabama went on to finish undefeated and win its first national championship since 1992, Auburn matched that with an undefeated run of its own under transfer quarterback Cam Newton to win just its second national title and first since 1957.

Saban and the Crimson Tide responded with back-to-back championship seasons in 2011 and 2012 en route to claiming five in nine years (2009-17).

But it all started with “The Drive.”

“It comes up in the month of November probably year-in and year-out, but I don’t think too much of it,” Upchurch said of his catch. “I just think I’m a testimony to kind of doing what I need to do to prevail for myself as a student-athlete. … I’m just proud I’m a part of that.”

Upchurch’s springboard contribution to Alabama’s unparalleled dynasty under Saban is commemorated inside his mother’s living room in the form of an indelible Daniel Moore painting of his game-winning catch from the 2009 Iron Bowl.

“Every time I go there it just kind of dawns on me that it happened, and I’m very thankful that it did happen and I’m blessed,” Upchurch said. “That’s what being a student-athlete is about: seizing the moment, being ready when your number’s called. … Without that catch, who knows what would’ve happened? Who knows how the polls would’ve adjusted? There might not have been a dynasty or even a national championship. Who knows?”


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