The day the Earth trembled in Tiger Stadium's temblor

Great moments in LSU football history have conjured up Halloween ghosts, made time stand still and produced miracles.

Twenty-five years ago, one of the immortal plays in LSU football history shook the very ground beneath Tiger Stadium.

On Oct. 8, 1988, Tiger Stadium — Death Valley — shook and swayed to the heart-pounding ending of The Earthquake Game.

The reaction to Tommy Hodson’s fourth-down, last-gasp, 11-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Fuller to beat Auburn 7-6 that night sent the needle on the seismograph across campus in the LSU Geology Department flying as though the San Andreas Fault had ruptured somewhere near Nicholson Drive.

Truth to tell, LSU Geology Professor Juan Lorenzo said the ground shakes during every game at Tiger Stadium.

“It’s very common,” he said, “especially when the band plays.”

No one really knew that in 1988, though. What took place was part legend, part drama, pure South Louisiana theater.

The set-up

To say LSU limped into the Auburn game that year was an understatement.

LSU started off an impressive 2-0, blanking No. 10 Texas A&M 27-0 and routing Tennessee 34-9 on the road. But back-to-back losses at Ohio State and Florida left LSU 2-2 and 0-1 in the Southeastern Conference, its season almost over.

Auburn sauntered into Baton Rouge 4-0 and ranked No. 4, in the midst of a tremendous four-year stretch in which they went 39-7-2, won or shared three SEC titles and never finished lower than eighth in the final polls.

“‘We felt we would blow you out,’” Auburn great Tracy Rocker told LSU running back Eddie Fuller years later when they were in the NFL. “They wanted to come into Tiger Stadium and get up on us quick and get our fans out of the game.

“It didn’t happen that way.”

The game

Auburn didn’t blow LSU out, but it looked like it would instead strangle the life out of the home team. Two Win Lyle field goals — one in the second quarter, the other in the fourth — were all the scoring for most of the night.

“I remember it being very physical,” former LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson said. “I got beat up pretty good. They didn’t get a lot of sacks but I got hit a lot.”

Auburn stuffed LSU’s running game — the home Tigers netted just 28 yards rushing on 27 carries. But finally with 6:07 left and starting from its own 25, LSU was able to move.

Driving to the Auburn 21, Hodson found Fuller at the goal line but he couldn’t hang on to the pass. Three plays later on fourth-and-9 from the 20, Hodson hit big tight end Willie Williams in the right flat. Williams, who caught just six passes all season, stretched his big 6-foot-7 frame just enough to get to the 11.

From there, LSU called North Over Zip 40 X Snag, a fairly standard pass that Hodson said most teams employed. The previous two years he used it over and over again to find All-American wide receiver Wendell Davis (Davis played the Z position so it was called Z Snag). Most of the time it was for a receiver, but on first-and-10 at the 11 Hodson threw for Fuller, who couldn’t come down before he stepped on the end line.

Two more incompletions and it was fourth down, 1:47 left.

“It was quiet in the huddle,” Fuller said. “We knew we just had to get in the end zone. The defense had kept us in the game the whole night.

“I was just thinking, ‘Man, I wonder if this guy is going to throw the ball back to me. I didn’t have a great game. I felt if he got it to me one more time I would do all I could to catch it.”

Again LSU called North Over Zip 40 X Snag. This time, Fuller came down with Hodson’s pass in the back of the end zone.

The earthquake hit Tiger Stadium with 1:41 left in the fourth quarter — fans screaming, jumping up and down, and somewhere in the middle of the madness coach Mike Archer stood and called for David Browndyke to kick the extra point to make it 7-6.

Hodson’s celebration was muted. Driven to the turf one last time by Auburn defensive end Ron Stallworth, he barely had the strength to lift his arms over his head, unbuckle his chin strap and trudge back to the sideline.

“I remember throwing the pass and going to the sideline and being drained,” Hodson said. “It was relief.”

LSU’s defense still had to hold Auburn one last time. Auburn started at its 35 but four plays netted just four yards. When Reggie Slack’s fourth-down pass for tight end Lawyer Tillman sailed high, linebacker Ron Sancho leaped up then fell to the turf in quick prayer.

Maybe he felt the turf move.

The aftermath

Auburn wouldn’t lose another regular-season game. One point may have denied those Tigers the ultimate prize.

“Auburn people feel we would have played for the national championship had it not been for that loss,” said former Auburn athletic director David Housel. “But it was the greatest compliment Auburn football was ever paid. Auburn lost, and the earth moved.”

And the pass passed into LSU lore like Billy Cannon’s Halloween 1959 punt return against Ole Miss, the Bert Jones-to-Brad Davis last-second pass to beat Ole Miss in 1972 and the Marcus Randall-to-Devery Henderson “Bluegrass Miracle” to beat Kentucky in 2002.

For all his success — Hodson left LSU as the SEC’s career passing leader, is the only man to quarterback LSU to a pair of SEC titles (1986 and 1988), played in the NFL — it is that sliver of time that people have talked to him about for a quarter-century.

“I don’t see myself as just that one throw,” he said. “It wasn’t my favorite game or my fondest memory of LSU. But for 25 years people have wanted to talk to me about that drive and that last throw to Eddie. Where they were. They tell me how big it was for them and how much they talk to their kids about it. It really blows my mind.

“It’s really neat to be part of LSU history like that. It’s humbling.”

And, of course, moving.