When head coach Nick Saban left the LSU Tigers for the NFL, fans in Baton Rouge were upset. It was rather understandable, too. How could he just up and leave town like that? But when he came back to college football to lead the Alabama Crimson Tide, the intensity grew and a heated SEC rivalry was officially born.
On November 3, 2007, the No. 17 Crimson Tide hosted the third-ranked Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was dubbed the “Saban Bowl” since it was the head coach’s first game against his former team, and man, it was electric.
Midway through the fourth quarter, and the SEC West game tied at 27, LSU punted the ball away to Alabama’s Javier Arenas. That proved to be a mistake.
Arenas caught the ball, weaved through some defenders, and then sprinted into the end zone for an electrifying 61-yard touchdown. As a result, the Crimson Tide took the lead and Bryant-Denny Stadium went absolutely nuts.
Javier Arenas’ Punt Return TD vs. LSU
That didn’t last long, however. A few minutes later, LSU quarterback Matt Flynn threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Early Doucet before running back Jacob Hester iced the game with a score of his own. The Tigers escaped with a 41-34 victory.
The first time Saban coached against his former team was a thriller, though, especially in the second half.
2007 LSU vs. Alabama Highlights
Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson struggled with his accuracy, but found wide receivers Keith Brown (twice) and DJ Hall for touchdowns, while Flynn threw for 353 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. LSU’s Demetrius Byrd had a monster game with six catches for 144 yards and a touchdown.
The Alabama-LSU matchup had much more than a regular season feel to it. Every play, every field goal attempt, it all felt like a NCAA national title game.
Ironically, LSU football won the BCS National Championship over Ohio State in New Orleans.
While the Tigers won the “Saban Bowl” and the big trophy that year, Alabama has enjoyed several championship games and College Football Playoff berths with Saban on the sideline. That punt return just helped heat up the rivalry more than ever.