The Warriors were worthy of their victory over Alabama. And while it was the first-ever win by Hawaii over a Southeastern Conference team, unfortunately for the Crimson Tide it is not a small, exclusive fraternity of victors over this particular Bama team. Alabama hasn't built its reputation with losing records, and there haven't been many in the Crimson Tide's long history. This year's mark was 4-9, the 13 game schedule enabling the Tide to record the second most number of losses in Alabama history, second only to the 0-10 mark of 1955.
first-year Head Coach Mike Shula was grim following the performance of his team. "We finished up on a sour note after having the lead," he said. "I don't have a good feeling right now. We've got a lot of work to do. It's not that we can't get it done, and get it done in a hurry, but it's going to take work."
He said, "It was a disappointing season."
He said he told his players that he wants them to remember the feeling they had after the loss and after the season, "to remember it when they get a little tired in the off-season conditioning program."
While Shula gave credit to the Warriors of Coach June Jones for doing "a nice job," the Tide coach was obviously disappointed in the execution by his team, particularly the offense. Although the 37 points scored by Hawaii goes against the defense to some extent, it was primarily the inefficiency of the offense that was Alabama's greatest undoing.
At the end of the third quarter Alabama had a 21-16 lead (ironically, the final score of last year's Bama win over Hawaii) and the Tide was in scoring range. But Brian Bostick's 40-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter was pulled wide left, and the Warriors then scored 21 points before Alabama tacked on a meaningless consolation score in the final half minute.
Shula said between the end of the Hawaii game and the A-Day Game on March 20 the most important chore would be recruiting. "Our coaches have got to really work hard and get some sound young student-athletes who will be a fit for Alabama." He said that later the staff would be evaluating the season, "seeing what we did good and what we did bad." Finally, he said, beginning with the start of spring practice on February 23, the coaches will have an opportunity to work with the players who will make up the bulk of the 2004 football team, working on things there was not an opportunity to do when the new staff took over for August practice.
Bama got off to an excellent start. After holding the Rainbows on their first possession, the Tide got a 56-yard run from Shaud Williams that set lup a one-yard Williams touchdown run and a 7-0 Alabama lead just over five minutes into the game.
Although Williams would have a critical miscue in the second half, it was another all-around fine performance for the senior who was elected permanent offensive captain by his teammates. Williams finished with 18 rushes for 105 yards and had five pass receptions for 73 yards.
Early in the second quarter Bama made it 14-0. Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle completed six passes for 91 yards -- the first a 44-yard pass-and-run by Tyrone Prothro, the last a two-yard pitch to tight end Clint Johnston for his first career touchdown. The drive was officially nine plays for 80 yards as the Tide had to overcome a couple of penalties.
Croyle had been ill during the week, but had practiced. One report said that he had lost about 10 pounds during his illness. He finished the final game of his sophomore season with 20 completions in 37 attempts for 247 yards. He had two touchdowns and also suffered two interceptions and was sacked an uncharacteristic six times. As a rusher he had 12 carries for a net of minus eight yards.
It didn't take Hawaii long to get back in the game. The Warriors changed quarterbacks, lifting the celebrated Timmy Chang and putting in Jason Whieldon. Meanwhile, the Alabama defense elected to rest its starting secondary. Alabama played virtually the entire game with five defensive backs, sometimes with three defensive linemen and three linebackers, sometimes with four defensive linemen and two linebackers. The starting secondary included cornerbacks Charlie Peprah and Anthony Madison, strong safety Roman Harper, safety Charles Jones, and nickel back Ramzee Robinson. All five starters were taken out simultaneously and Hawaii took only three plays to go 71 yards and cut the margin to 14-7. The scoring play was a relatively short pass from Whieldon to Jeremiah Cockheran in which he out-raced the secondary on a 48-yard touchdown play. Whieldon was also the quarterback as Hawaii tied the score with a five-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a four-yard pass to See Poumele.
Although Alabama would make some big plays against Hawaii's kicking game, in many respects the Warriors were excellent on special teams. That was particularly true of punter Kurt Milne, who continually backed Bama up with nice kicks. One of those kicks led to Hawaii taking the lead. After Bama was pinned at its three-yard line, the Tide had a curious play selection, an apparent hitch-and-go that kept Croyle in the end zone with the ball a few moments too long. He was trapped for a safety, giving Hawaii a 16-14 lead.
Frequently a team scoring a safety will get additional points, because the team allowing the safety must kick from its 20, allowing good field position. That seemed the likely outcome as Hawaii lined up for a 25-yard field goal attempt. But Anthony Madison came off the right end and blocked the kick. It was caught by Roman Harper at the 27 and returned 73 yards for a touchdown and a 21-16 Alabama lead.
After Bama's defense held, the Tide got a good punt return from Brandon Brooks, the 16-yard runback putting Bama in business at Hawaii's 49-yard line. Two runs got a first down and then two more appeared to have another, but Williams fumbled and Hawaii had staved off the threat, taking over at the Hawaii 14.
Alabama had another great opportunity when Chris James blocked a punt, giving Bama the ball at the Hawaii 22. Ray Hudson, who would rush 11 times for 62 yards, had an eight-yard burst to the Hawaii 14 and points for Alabama seemed assured. However, there were more unusual play calls. On second-down-and-two Croyle seemed to be attempting a drop back and slipped down for a loss of five. On third down he was sacked, losing four more yards. The sure points were now down to a 40-yard field goal opportnity, which was missed on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Hawaii responded with a lightning-quick (and somewhat controversial) touchdown, 77 yards in four plays. Whieldon passed to Cockheran, who was marked as having gone out of bounds before making the catch. However, after a short huddle, the WAC officials ruled in favor of the home team and allowed the 47-yard touchdown. The Warriors were successful on a two-point conversion run by Michael Brewster to make it a three-point Hawaii lead at 24-21.
Alabama survived Croyle's first interception, but an exchange of punts was instrumental in the Warriors extending their lead. Hawaii was able to start a drive at Bama's 29-yard line and got a 20-yard touchdown pass from Whieldon to Clinton Herbert for a 30-21 lead. (The extra point kick missed.)
Bama also survived Croyle's second interception. Although the Warriors ;had the ball at the Alabama eight, two passes were incomplete, and then Derrick Pope intercepted in the end zone. (Incidentally, Pope, who was Bama's leading tackler with 10 and also broke up three passes, is this year's Tide defensive captain.)
But the Bama offense continued to struggle. With its back to the wall, Alabama had to gamble on fourth-and-eight from its own 22. It was a bad bet. Croyle never got the pass away, sacked at the Alabama 18. Two plays later Whieldon showed he could run as well as pass, shredding the Bama defense on an 18-yard touchdown run and a 37-21 lead with just over four minutes to play.
Alabama's two-minute offense took nearly all of the remaining time with Croyle finally getting Bama into the end zone on a five-yard pass to Lance Taylor. With Croyle's pass to Williams for a sucessful two-point conversion, the Tide had a breath of life, down by eight at 37-29. But when Kyle Robinson's on-sides kick was recovered by the Warriors, it was just a matter of running out the clock on the final 29 seconds of the game and, for Alabama, the 2003 season.
In addition to Williams' pass receptions, Zach Fletcher had four catches for 78 yards and Tyrone Prothro thee grabs for 63 yards.
Bo Freelend punted well, six boots for a 45.3-yard average. He also completed an 11-yard pass to Roman Harper after a snap got away from him. Unfortunately for Alabama, the 11-yard gain came on a fourth-and-24 play.
Both teams had 409 total yards. Bama had 19 first downs and Hawaii 17. Bama had 43 rushes for 151 net yards. Hawaii 21 runs for 134 yards. Bama completed 21 of 38 passes for 258 yards, Hawaii 22 of 48 attempts for 275 yards.
Alabama was penalized 10 times for 95 yafrds, Hawaii four times for 25 yards.