Zac Stacy’s most memorable carry came after the game ended.
After the senior broke Vanderbilt’s all-time rushing record. After he joined his teammates and chimed in with the band and students to sing the alma mater. After he posed for pictures with the offense.
As he left Vanderbilt Stadium following a 17-13 victory over Auburn on Saturday, he rose above everyone else – literally. Members of the offensive line hoisted the 5-foot-9, 210-pounder onto their shoulders and carried him off the field.
“It felt good,” Stacy said. “That is one thing that makes this team very special – the chemistry within each other. And it is just a domino effect.”
Plenty of toppling occurred against Auburn (1-6, 0-5 SEC) as Stacy broke through tackles and burst through running lanes to pick up 169 yards on 27 carries. His 27-yard run late in the fourth quarter made him the school's ll-time leader for rushing yards, surpassing the mark of 2,632 yards set by Frank Mordica from 1976-79. Stacy, who set the single-season rushing record last year, now has 2,670 for his career.
“It is a reflection off the offensive line,” Stacy said. “Those guys do a good job of opening up holes. ... I’m definitely honored. Reflecting back on my career here, I’ve dealt with a lot of adversity. A lot of injuries, coaching changes but no doubt about it I’m very honored to represent Vanderbilt and get the rushing title. But, at the same time, I’ve got a lot of improving to do.”
He was pretty good right from the start against Auburn. Stacy touched the ball seven times on an opening drive that lasted 8:25 and ended with a touchdown by Wesley Tate.
After the Commodores (3-4, 2-3) drifted away from the run and lost the lead, they returned to Stacy to jump back in front. He had five carries on a seven-play, 85-yard drive. He followed his 30-yard sprint out of the Wildcat formation with a 2-yard touchdown for a 17-10 lead early in the third quarter.
Stacy went from tone-setter to providing relief to attempting to close out the win. Clinging to a 17-13 lead with 4:41 left, Vanderbilt relied on him. He made six straight carries, beginning with the record-breaking run that came out of a direct snap – which he was featured in more than any game this season – and went around the left end.
The same drive, however, led to his lone miscue of the game. On third and six, at Auburn’s 39-yard line, he powered forward to the first-down marker but fumbled. The Tigers recovered at their 32 with 2:42 left. Luckily, Stacy was bailed out seven plays later when Auburn failed to convert a fourth-and-13 to all but end the game.
“The defense had my back on that costly fumble,” Stacy said. “... That can’t happen but at the same time as a senior captain on this team, you just have to stay positive. I had very good confidence in my defense to get a stop and get the win.”
Over four years, Stacy has provided a steady presence while playing for three head coaches. Last year he rushed for 1,193 yards and 14 touchdowns to set school records in both categories. His breakout season came after he bided his time behind former SEC Freshman of the Year Warren Norman. Stacy also missed five games his first two years due to injury.
“I’ve been impressed with him since day one on campus here,” said quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who arrived before the 2010 season. “Aside from being an unbelievable running back, he’s physical, he’s fast and he's a great guy. He’s going to give the recognition to the offensive line and they played their butt off [Saturday]. Zac’s making some plays that a lot of other guys can’t make.”
Stacy doesn’t possess breakaway speed but has overpowering strength, which allows him to break tackles and turn negative plays into gains. An All-SEC selection in 2011, he now has eight career 100-yard rushing games. With 668 rushing yards this year and five games remaining, he is one pace to become Vanderbilt’s first repeat 1,000-yard rusher.
The hard-working, humble 21-year-old said there was no extra motivation playing against Auburn – a school many of his family members root for. A native of Centreville, Ala., his favorite football team wasn’t Auburn or Alabama. No, it was a lot closer to home – Bibb County High School.
“That was a big deal back home, being a Choctaw,” said Stacy, who rushed for 5,683 yards and scored 76 touchdowns at Bibb. “Being able to play for Bibb was a pretty good honor for me. I just remember every Friday night when I was little. I was actually the water boy, just trying to get close to the team.
"Here I am now.”