CONWAY, Ark. — The Auburn vs. Alabama "Iron Bowl" semifinals morphed into a Civil War final in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series.
Auburn brothers Matt and Jordan Lee defeated Alabama's Dustin Connell and Logan Johnson in separate contests Saturday afternoon at Beaverfork Lake to set up a brother vs. brother Sunday final, which will determine a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.
On a long day, which started with quarterfinal matches in the morning, under record-breaking heat – it hit 108 degrees in nearby Little Rock – Auburn's Lee brothers proved equal to the grueling task.
As the field was reduced from eight competitors in the morning to four in the afternoon, no one caught a five-bass limit from this 960-acre reservoir east of Conway. But the Lee brothers both managed to catch a big bass in each round to advance to Sunday's final.
"With as much as there is on the line, I probably could have fished through the night," said an exhausted Matt Lee, who caught the big bass of the morning matches – a 4-pound, 14-ounce largemouth – and the big bass of the afternoon – a 5-7.
"It's kind of a sweet-and-sour deal," said Jordan Lee, who, at 21, is two years younger than his brother. "We live together, and we're best friends. It's going to be weird in the morning, to be honest with you."
Jordan had the closest call Saturday, advancing to the semifinals with only two ounces to spare. Murray State's Justin Graben was the only angler to catch close to a five-bass limit all day, finishing with four that weighed 7-7. Lee had 7-9 to advance to the afternoon session.
Lee had only one fish in the boat with 30 minutes left. He then caught two on back-to-back casts, including a 4-9, to give him the big bag of the morning, 7-9. His last two fish came on a Spro Big John crankbait.
Matt Lee caught his 4-14 Saturday morning with eight minutes left to clinch his victory over Murray State's Vincent Campisano. Lee used a five-inch Strike King Sexy Shad spoon to attract the big bass, then had to battle it out of a brushpile.
"I thought it was a catfish at first, the way it was shaking its head," Lee said. "I had it on for at least a minute-and-a-half before I got it out of the brush."
Campisano had one bass that weighed 1-3. Lee finished with two that weighed 6-12.
Alabama's Johnson and Connell also advanced in the morning session. Johnson had two bass weighing 5-0 to top Oklahoma State's Zack Birge, who had one fish weighing 1-3. Connell caught three weighing a total of 3-14 to beat Flurry, who zeroed.
Oklahoma State's Birge and Flurry won the three-day Carhartt Bassmaster College Series National Championship Friday.
But the Alabama anglers were essentially tapped out by Saturday afternoon. Johnson caught one bass weighing 1-11 in his matchup with Jordan Lee, who had three bass weighing 8-2. Connell zeroed against Matt Lee, who finished with two bass weighing 8-11.
"It's been brutal," Connell said. "Today might have been the worst day of fishing in my life.
"These (Auburn) guys, they are some hammers to catch the fish they did today."
Matt Lee apologized to Connell for catching the 5-7 within sight of him.
"That had to be a dagger in the heart, seeing me catch that big one," Lee said. "I've never caught a bass that fought like that one did."
Lee used the Strike King Sexy Shad spoon again in the afternoon to catch his big bass.
As the moment started to sink in at the conclusion of Saturday's weigh-in, Jordan Lee said, "I'm so excited, I can't even talk. Me or my brother is going to the (Bassmaster) Classic."
Standing nearby was their mother, Leigh. (Yes, Leigh Lee. "I tell young girls to be careful who they marry," she said in reference to her name.) She was overcome with emotion as she realized what her sons had accomplished Saturday.
"Their mother started them fishing," said Bruce Lee, of his wife and two sons.
Sunday stands to be a remarkably emotional day for everyone in the Lee family.
Once again the anglers will be back on Beaverfork Lake. Due to safety concerns in light of the predicted excessive heat, the match time has been adjusted. It will begin at 6 a.m. CT and conclude at 10:30 a.m. The weigh-in follows at 10:40 a.m. at Beaverfork Lake, 80 Kinley Drive, Conway, Ark., and is free and open to the public.