Alabama Comeback Comes Up Short

Former Alabama Football Coach Gene Stallings lectured, "If you don't think a football game is important, just trying losing it." In the grand scheme of things, a Crimson Tide appearance in the Independence Bowl might not seem important. But losing it put an exclamation mark on one of the most disappointing seasons in Bama history.

Alabama's 34-31 loss to Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl Thursday meant that the Crimson Tide finished the season with a losing record. While Bama fell to 6-7, Oklahoma State improved its record to 7-6.

Although the Crimson Tide improved its NCAA record for bowl appearances to 54, Bama was unable to increase its national record win total, which remains at 30, against 21 losses and three ties. Alabama is now 1-1 in Independence Bowl appearances.

The 2006 season thus closes, a season in which the Crimson Tide finished without its head coach. Mike Shula was fired following Bama's fifth consecutive loss to Auburn at the end of regular season play. Joe Kines served as interim coach for the bowl game.

Attention in the Alabama camp now shifts to the search for a replacement for Shula, expected to be announced within the next week to 10 days.

Alabama made a game of it with special plays, a couple of big plays on special teams including Javier Arenas record 87-yard punt return, and the most special offensive play of the season, freshman offensive tackle Andre Smith scoring a touchdown on a trick play.

But in the end the Alabama defense couldn't keep Oklahoma State from going almost the length of the field to a chip shot field goal by sophomore Jason Ricks for the win. Alabama's first two offensive plays couldn't have been much worse. The first was a swing pass from John Parker Wilson to Kenneth Darby that lost four yards, the second a wide run by Darby that he fumbled, turning the ball over to Oklahoma State at the Alabama 38.

The Cowboys took advantage of that with a seven–play drive to a touchdown. OSU made a first down on a fourth down run by quarterback Bobby Reid and then got a 22-yard Reid to tight end Justin Waller for a first down at the one. Two plays later running back Dantrell Savage got the touchdown. Jason Ricks kicked a long extra point after a five-yard participation penalty.

Alabama tied the game with a very nice 72-yard, nine-play drive that finished with the Tide making quick work of Red Zone efficiency. From the 18 on first down, Wilson connected with Matt Caddell for the touchdown. Jamie Christensen kicked the extra point to knot the game at 7-7 with 3:32 remaining in the first quarter.

The touchdown pass was the 17th of the season for Wilson, giving him the Alabama school record.

On the touchdown drive, Wilson had completions of 11 yards to D.J. Hall and nine yards to Le'Ron McClain, McClain had an 11-yard run, and Jimmy Johns had runs of five and nine.

Although most would point to a questionable personal foul call against Simeon Castille as the key play in Oklahoma State's go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter, the big play for the Cowboys was a late first quarter punt. Keith Toston ran four yards for the touchdown after a personal foul call against Castille in the end zone. That capped a four-play, 42-yard drive. In addition to the penalty and the touchdown run, Adarius Bowman had a nice one-handed catch of a Reid pass for a 23-yard gain. Field position had been established by an excellent 35-yard punt by OSU's Matt Fodge, which penned the Tide at the one-yard line.

The Cowboys had a moment of excitement after Bama's next punt when Tommy Deavereaux returned the kick 57 yards for a touchdown, but OSU had been guilty of a block in the back. The Cowboys were able to drive from their 36 to the Alabama 12 where Ricks kicked a 29-yard field goal and a 17-7 Oklahoma State lead. It was a nine-play drive.

Alabama got back to within three points at 17-14 with only only two and a half minutes remaining until intermission. Tim Castille went in from a yard out to cap a nice 80-yard, nine-play drive. It took two plays for Castille to get it in with Alabama using the jumbo package to get its second Red Zone touchdown in as many opportunities. Johns, who had a five-yard run to the one-yard line to set up the score, had a 21-yard run to get the drive started. Darby took a screen pass for 20 yards with a personal foul tacked on.

Oklahoma State responded with an exceptional two-minute drive. In fact, a drive of 1:46 for a touchdown and 24-14 halftime lead. After 29-yard kickoff return by Grant Jones, the Cowboys drove 64 yards in eight plays with Tosten getting his second rushing touchdown of the quarter. He went in from seven yards out.

Bama had an excellent series to start the second half, getting key third down plays from Wilson and driving to a first down at the Oklahoma State 15. But two plays netted only a yard and the third down play—the 14th play of the drive--came up short of a first down. Christensen's 24-yard field goal cut the Oklahoma State lead to 24-17.

The Cowboys seemed to have put the game away with a nice drive that ended early in the fourth quarter with a 10-yard Reid to Bowman touchdown pass. The 66-yard drive included Reid keeping on a fourth down play to keep the drive alive and a pass interference call against the Tide that moved OSU into the Red Zone. It was 31-17.

Freshman return specialist Javier Arenas, who had been notable for his fair catches of punts early in the game, got the Tide back in contention with 10:50 to play with an 86-yard punt return, the longest in Independence Bowl history. Bama was within 31-24.

On the ensuing kickoff, Jones fumbled and Chris Rogers recovered for Alabama at the Oklahoma State 21. Eric Gray caused the fumble.

Wilson hit Stover for a first down at the Cowboys' three-yard line. Castille got an official yard, but it was enough for Bama to try something new.And what a new! Wilson tossed a lateral out to offensive tackle Andre Smith, who caught it and took it in for the touchdown. It was officially a two-yard rush for Smith. With 8:41 to play Bama had tied the game at 31-31.

Simeon Castille intercepted a Reid pass at the Alabama 41 with just over seven minutes to play. Wilson hit Caddell on a third down passs for a first down at the OSU 46, but three more plays netted nothing and Bama had to punt.

With 3:18 to play, Oklahoma State had the ball at its 16-yard line.

On first down, Savage went over right tackle for a 23-yard gain. Two plays later Reid scrambled for a gain of seven to Bama's 47 with the clock winding under two minutes. The Cowboys picked up a first down on an 11-yard pass to Bowman at the Alabama 42 with 1:36 to play. One play gained only a yard and cost 30 seconds before OSU called time out at the Tide 40. After an incompletion on third-and-nine, a 26-yard screen pass to Savage put the Cowboys in field goal range at the Alabama 15. OSU ran it down to the Tide eight and called time out with 18 seconds to play. The Cowboys then ran it to the middle of the field and called their last time out with the ball at the 10 and 13.3 seconds to play.

After Alabama used its three timeouts in the obligatory attempt to ice the kicker, it was then left for Ricks to win the game with a 27-yard field goal, which he did with 8.9 seconds to play.

Oklahoma State received a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration, meaning the Cowboys had to kick off from their own 20, but Alabama was out of special teams miracles. A handful of laterals were never close to getting the return going and the game ended with OSU recovering a fumble inside the Alabama 10.

Savage was the Offensive MVP and Jeremy Nethon, outside linebacker for the Cowboys, was Defensive MVP.

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