Win Best Thing About Playing Catamounts

One of the few good things about Alabama playing a team like Western Carolina is that players who don’t get much playing time are able to get some snaps. One of the problems Saturday was that back-up players were getting in early because Crimson Tide starters were getting hurt against the Catamounts.

One of the many bad things about playing games like that is that even though Alabama took a 48-14 win over Western Carolina at homecoming, and certainly “controlled the game,” no one would suggest it made a favorable impression on any poll voters. But maybe they didn’t watch; just looked at the final score.

The win improved Alabma to 10-1 overall. Western Carolina fell to 7-5

Although backups played much of the game, most of the second half, before the subs could take over Alabama suffered injuries to such key players as wide receiver Amari Cooper, left tackle Cam Robinson, tight end Brian Vogler, fullback Jalston Fowler, and wide receiver Ardarius Stewart. Following the game, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said he thought that Vogler and Stewart would be considered the most serious with stretched ligaments.

Alabama returns to SEC play next week when the Crimson Tide hosts Auburn in the final regular season game of the year. Bama, 6-1 in conference play, can win the SEC Western Division championship with a win over the Tigers.

With T.J. Yeldon held out of the game, Derrick Henry rushed for 923 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries and Tyren Jones had 11 rushes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Blake Sims completed 17 of 25 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns, but suffered one interception. His back-up, Jacob Coker, played all but the last few minutes of the second half and completed 12-18 for 115 yards and one touchdown. Alec Morris handled the mop-up work with the likes of walk-on tailback Buddy Pell of Mountain Brook, fifth tailback of the game.

Chris Black, who has been missing in recent football action, had six receptions for 101 yards. Ardarius Stewart pulled in five for 51 and Robert Foster four for 40 yards. Amari Cooper had three for 46 before going out with what appeared to be an injury to his left knee.

Cam Sims and Henry had touchdown catches.

Landon Collins led the Tide defense with seven tackle, followed by Trey DePriest with five, and Reggie Ragland and Cyrus Jones with four each.

Alabama dominated in team statistics. The Tide had 36 first downs to 12 for Western Carolina. Bama had 45 rushes for 275 yards, the Catamounts 13 runs for minus 8 net yards. Alabama quarterbacks completed 29 of 43 passes for 337 yards, WCU quarterback Troy Mitchell connected on 23-39 for 221 yards and two touchdowns and was not intercepted. His top targets were Kernorris Benson (9-118) and Spearman Robinson (5-45 with two touchdowns).

Total offense was Bama 88 plays for 612 yards, 7 yards per play, and Western Carolina 52-213, a little over 4 yards per play.

Alabama made 9-14 third down plays, WCU 3-12. The Tide was also successful on two fourth down conversion tries, while Western Carolina failed on its only trie, a fake field goal that Collins blew up.

Bama was penalized five times for 50 yards, Western Carolina 5-68. The Tide had an advantage of time of possession, 38:01 to 21:59.

In addition to the interception, Alabama lost a fumble. The Catamounts did not suffer a turnover.

It was, technically, a come-from-behind win for the Tide, perhaps because of an unusual mistake by the officiating crew. Western Carolina appeared to have fumbled the ball to Bama when Eddie Jackson knocked it loose and Trey DePriest picked it up and ran it back to the Catamounts 20-yard line on the third play of the game. The officials, though, said an inadvertant whistle had been blown during the play, and so Western Carolina was able to repeat the third-and-10 opportunity.

WCU did repeat it and successfully converted a pass for a first down. They followed that with passes of 21 and 31 yards to Benson that set up a first-and-goal at the Alabama 9. On third down from the two, Mitchell passed to Robinson for the score. Richard Sigmon kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead. It was the first time this season an opponent has scored a touchdown with its initial possession.

Alabama answered with a 9-play, 52-yard drive. Henry had a 12-yard first down run and Sims completed passes of 13 and 27 for first downs to the four. On first-and-goal, Sims completed a touchdown pass to true freshman Cam Sims with 7:51 left in the first quarter. Walk-on freshman Gunnar Raborn, who was doing the extra point and field goal kicking for Adam Griffith (who was held out to allow him more time to recuperate from injury), made the first of his six extra points. He would also hit on two of three field goals, including one later in the first quarter that put Bama up for good.

Christion Jones returned a punt 20 yards to midfield and a personal foul penalty was tacked on to give the Tide the ball at the WCU 34. Alabama started with a 12-yard run by Fowler and a 16-yard pass to Stewart and drove to the Western Carolina three, but had to settle for Raborn’s 20-yard field goal and a 19-7 lead.

In the last minute of the first quarter, the Tide started a 9-play, 63-yard drive that would end with Henry getting his first touchdown on a 10-yard run over the left side. Henry had five runs for 39 yards in the drive to a 17-7 Bama lead.

Henry wasn’t all good, though.

Bama was trying to get out from the shadow of its goal when Henry fumbled it back to the Catamounts at the 12-yard line. On first down, the Mitchell to Robinson combo produced another TD, cutting the Bama lead top 17-14.

The Sims-to-Sims connection worked for Alabama, a 22-yard pass to start a 10-play, 69-yard drive that would end with Tyren Jones running in from seven yards out and giving Bama a 24-14 lead. Sims also had pass completions of 14 yards to Chris Black and 18 yards to Ardarius Stewart to keep the march going.

Only 6:44 remained in the first half as Bama kicked off to WCU with a modest 10-point lead. Things would change in the rest of that second quarter.

A three-and-out and a punt and Alabama was starting at its 23 with 5:46 until halftime. Tyren Jones had three runs for 21 yards and Blake Sims completed a 26-yard pass to tight end O.J. Howard as the Tide moved to a fourth-and-one at the Catamounts 23. Henry took the handoff and headed for the left side, where Bama had an unbalanced line with both left tackle Austin Shepherd (playing in place of the injured Cam Robinson) and Dominick Jackson (who had taken Shepherd’s spot) were lined up. Henry popped outside and went 23 yards for a 23-yard touchdown, his second of the game, to complete the seven-play, 77-yard drive and make it UA 31, WCU 14.

With 3:16 to play before halftime, Bama kicked off to Western Carolina.

The Catamounts had another three-and-out and Alabama got the ball at its 43 with 1:54 to play. It proved to be plenty of time. Sims had first down passes of 7 yards to tight end O.J. Howard, 11 to Christion Jones, and 25 to Chris Black before passing to Henry for the 9-yard touchdown.

The 6-play, 57-yard drive had taken barely a minute and improved the Bama margin to 38-14.

The likes of Sims and Henry were finished for the day.

Jake Coker took over at quarterback in the second half and took the Tide to a 20-yard Raborn field goal and a 41-14 lead. Tyren Jones had a couple of 13-yard runs in the drive that stalled at the Western Carolina 11, forcing the field goal with 10:10 to play.

Alabama would get one more third quarter touchdown that would end the scoring for the game.

Western Carolina seemed poised to score when the Catamounts lined up for a 31-yard field goal with just over seven minutes remaining in the third quarter. It was, however, a fake, with placekicker Sigmon, 5-10, 190, being blasted by Collins short of the first down.

Almost no one would have suspected Bama was about to begin a touchdown drive that would end the scoring in the third quarter.

The Tide drove 85 yards in nine plays for the touchdown. Coker hit Black for 25 yards and Alabama survived an instant replay that returned the ball to Bama after an apparent fumble after a 14-yard pass play to Foster. On a second-and-four at the 12, Coker connected with senior walk-on tight end (playing H-back) Michael Nysewander on a 12-yard touchdown play.

Only 1:49 remained in the third quarter. With 9:26 remaining in the game, the Tide had driven deep into Western Carolina territory, but failed to come up with points when Raborn’s field goal try saild wide right.

It was the end of the scoring.

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