Tide Wins, But Loses Croyle

A meaningless play in a meaningless game may mean that Alabama's football season is in jeopardy. The Crimson Tide rolled to a 52-0 win over Western Carolina Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium, but suffered a critical injury to star quarterback Brodie Croyle.

With Alabama leading 31-0, the Tide first offense was on the field for the first offensive series of the second half. On a third-and-seven from the Catamounts 47, Brodie Croyle attempted to scramble. He went down near the sidelines and then limped to the bench, where it appeared his knee was being examined by team doctors. A few minutes later Croyle walked unassisted with a trainer to the Alabama lockerroom. But that walk was only false hope for Bama fans.

After the game, Croyle said he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and would have surgery Tuesday. That is likely a season-ending injury. "I was going to the sidelines and planted my foot. I knew when it happened I had torn my ACL. That's not the way I expected the season to go."

Croyle said it "was likely" going to be his last series of the game.

The outstanding junior quarterback missed his senior season at Westbrook Christian High School with a knee injury and missed part of last season with a shoulder injury.

Bama Head Coach Mike Shula said, "Obviously it was a tough day to win the game but lose Brodie. Your heart goes out for these kids when you see the effort they give for their team and this university and then suffer an injury that ends the season. Not much is going to keep him down for long."

Shula added, "It was good to get Marc in there and then Spencer in there. We think we can win with both guys. And they need experience. And now everyone else is going to have to pick up their job and do it better–offensive line, running backs, receivers."

The coach said against Western Carolina, "We got off to a good start, then kind of slowed down, then added some points. And it was good to get the shutout."

Alabama returns to Southeastern Conference play and also has its first road game of the season next Saturday when the Crimson Tide goes to Arkansas. Kickoff from Fayetteville will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by CBS.

Shula said, "It was good to get three wins at home. Now we've got to go on the road and play a tough game against Arkansas."

Alabama opened the season with three consecutive wins for the first time since 1996. Bama is 1-0 in SEC play. Western Carolina, a Division 1-AThe Rzorbacks had an opportunity to defeat sixth-ranked Texas two weeks ago but suffered a late turnover deep in Longhorns territory and lost 22-20.

Saturday night's game was played in near perfect weather just a day after University officials determined it would be possible to have the game following Hurricane Ivan having hit the state earlier in the week.

The kicking game got the Crimson Tide off to a great start. Brandon Brooks returned the opening kickoff 87 yards to the Western Carolina 13 and three plays later Croyle hit tight end Clint Johnston on a nine-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 Alabama lead just 1:41 into the game.

Four plays later the Catamounts were forced to punt. Freshman Marcel Stamps blocked the punt, then picked up the ball at the 14 and ran it in from 14 yards out. Brian Bostick's extra point kick made it 14-0 with just over three minutes gone in the game.

But that was it for awhile for Alabama. Even though Bama was dominating on the scoreboard, the Western Carolina offense was having some success and the Crimson Tide offense was having its struggles, notably Coyle fumbling away an almost certain scoring opportunity inside the Catamounts' 10-yard line.

That was offsent when Tide defensive end Mark Anderson caused the Catamounts to fumble and linebacker DeMeco Ryans recovered for Bama at the one-yard line, preventing almost certain Western Carolina points.

Even the third Alabama touchdown of the game was a matter of the offense having to overcome its mistakes. Following a short Western Carolina punt, Bama started at its 39. Thus, the drive was officially listed as 61 yards. But by the time Alabama had overcome three holding penalties, the Tide had to actgually accrue some 90 yards of offense. Facing second and 21, Croyle completed passes of 16 yards to Matt Caddell and 11 yards to Tyrone Prothro. Later in the drive on a third-and-six Croyle hit D.H. Hall for 18 yards. Kenneth Darby scored the touchdown from four yards out. The drive took 12 official plays and lasted over six minutes.

Freshman cornerback Simeon Castille, playing at right cornerback, turned in a dandy interception to set up a 37-yard Brian Bostick field goal that made it 24-0. (Starting right cornerback Anthony Madison had an excellent interception off a pass tipped by linebacker Juwan Garth, but the Tide was unable to capitalize on that opportunity.) Bostick kicked seven extra points, although he may have been getting tired late. His last PAT kick hit the upright and bounced through.

The kicking game was involved as Bama ran the score to 31-0 just before halftime. Jeffrey Dukes forced a Western Carolina fumble on the kickoff return and Eric Gray recovered for the Tide at the Western Carolina 41 with just 36 seconds to play in the second quarter. Croyle and Matt Caddell took just 11 of those seconds to get a final first half touchdown. Croyle hit Caddell on the sidelines, and the redshirt freshman wide receiver kept his balance, broke away from the defender, and coasted into the end zone.

Although it came a series too late, Marc Guillon was inserted into the lineup at quarterback for Alabama on the second possession of the second half. The Tide made it 38-0 in a hurry. Following a Catamounts punt, Darby had a short rush, then Guillon hit D.J. Hall for 15 yards, and then Darby went up the middle on a 26-yard touchdown run.

Guillon completed a 39-yard pass to freshman Zeke Knight to the Western Carolina three, and then Guillon hit Le'Ron McClain with the first touchdown pass for Guillon and the first touchdown reception for McClain to make it 45-0. The scoring drive was 63 yards in six plays and taking just 3:11.

Following the game, Guillon, who moves up to number one quarterback, said, "We're hoping and praying that Brodie will be all right, and we think he will be, but it's my job to be ready to go. I felt comfortable out there. It was my first significant reps in a long time. The back-up prepares mentally to be the starter. I'm surrounded by great teammates."

With five minutes to play McClain got another touchdown. With Spencer Pennington at quarterback and mostly second and third teamers playing, the Tide went 34 yards in six plays following a fumble caused and recovered by DeMarcus Waldrop. McClain took a handoff up the middle and appeared to be stopped, but broke from the scrum and went to the end zone, pulling a Western Carolina defender with him on a 14-yard touchdown play.

Shula said he is confident that Alabama can win with either Guillon or Pennington at quarterback, but said Alabama would not attempt to have all the offense in with them that was in with Croyle.

When Pennington "took a knee" a couple of times to let the clock run out on the romp, Alabama was 3-0. But thoughts of another knee–Brodie Croyle's–were on everyone's mind.

As would be expected, Bama dominated statistically. The Tide had 21 first downs (9 rushing, 12 passing) to 10 for the Catamounts (2 rushing, 6 passing, 2 by penalty). Bama had 42 rushes for 247 net yards, WCU 30 carries for 83 yards. Tide passers completed 20 of 31 passes with no interceptions for 231 yards, WCU 8 of 24 with two interceptions for 108 yards. Bama had total offense of 478 yards on 73 plays, 6.5 yards per play, while WCU had 54 plays for 191 yards, 3.5 yards per play. Alabama lost one of two fumbles, but the Cats lost all three of their bobbles. Alabama was penalized nine times for 84 yards, WCU only twice for 14 yards. The Tide had over a 10-minute advantage in time of possession, 35:11 to 24:49. WCU was able to convert only 2 of 14 possession down conversions, while Alabama was good on 7 of 15.

Individually, Croyle hit 14 of 22 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns in his 16th career start. Aaron Johns, Bama's third halfback, had 11 carries for 86 yards, including a 44 yard run. Ray Hudson, who suffered what may have been a slight concussion, had nine carries for 68 yards and Kenneth Darby nine for 63. Tim Castille had five receptions for 45 yards, Matt Caddell two for 57, Ezekial Knight two for 46, D.J. Hall two for 33, and Tyrone Prothro two for 22.

TIDE NOTES: There were a number of Tiders seeing action for the first time, or the first time this year. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the use of true freshman middle linebacker Curtis Dawson.

Alabama played 74 men in the game. One who didn't play was freshman wide receiver Keith Brown, who had started the week before but who was held out with a minor injury. Among those who dressed (but didn't play) was walk-on wide receiver Jason Reese, who is also a walk-on Bama basketball player.

Others who dressed but didn't play include three who have been injured and considered as possible redshirt candidates. They are freshmen B.J. Stabler (offensive tackle) and Antoine Caldwell (center) and junior tight end Greg McLain.

A large number of the members of the 1979 Alabama team that went 12-0 and won the national championship were on hand for the game. Captains of that team, fullback Steve Whitman and cornerback Don McNeal, brought the game ball to m

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