Officially the play went into the record books as a 50-yard pass reception. But the line of scrimmage was the 50. Croyle had dropped back deep to pass. And Fletcher was beyond the goal line when he made the catch.
In other words, Croyle threw the ball more than 65 yards in the air. "He's redefining the term ‘stretching the defense,'" Fletcher said appreciatively. "If you've got a quarterback that can throw it that far--I love to go deep.
"Anytime the ball is in the air like that, I'm going to get it."
The play came with 9:51 to go in the ball game and Alabama holding onto a 13-point lead. After Fletcher made his streaking, diving grab, the Tide was up 30-10. And for all practical purposes the fat lady had sung.
"It was perfect; that's all I can say about it," was how Fletcher described the play. "The coaches designed it for the X receiver. If you run a good route, then the play is open every time. It was single coverage, but my man stayed down, so it was just me and the free safety. That's exactly how it's drawn up to be."
Croyle has told reporters that he was actually trying to throw the ball away--but that Fletcher was just so fast that he got to the ball anyway. Fletcher won't argue, but he has his doubts. "It looked to me like a perfect pass. He led me perfectly. I don't know if he was trying to throw it away or not, but I ran it down. I just saw it, so I had to go get it.
"At first I thought he had gotten tackled, because I was going so deep down the field. When I first looked he hadn't thrown it. But when I looked again I saw it. I had to jump a little bit for it. I just had to go get it the best way I could."
To catch up to the football Fletcher had to use every bit of his speed. And once he was in the endzone he still needed to leave his feet in order to haul in the pass. Head Coach Dennis Franchione commented, "What a throw-and-catch to Zach Fletcher there at the end. You don't draw them up any prettier than that one. That was a great catch by Zach."
Receivers Coach Kenith Pope knew Fletcher had the talent, and he had been bringing the junior college transfer along slowly as he learned the offense. "It was a big play; it definitely was," Pope acknowledged. "But it's like everything else. We always tell our guys that they need to be ready to come up with a play, and Zach was ready. He took care of his opportunity that night."
Playing behind starters Sam Collins, Triandos Luke and Dre Fulgham, Fletcher was determined to make the most of his opportunity. "Up to that point Zach hadn't had a whole lot of snaps," Pope related, "so he had fresh legs. When it was time to go in there he went out there and made a play. He did a great job in a crucial situation."
Matched up with Fletcher on the play was the Razorback's All-SEC free safety Ken Hamlin. "I wasn't worried about him," Fletcher said. "I was just thinking ‘Catch the ball.' I was hungry to catch it. They gave me a chance, and I took care of my opportunity."
Pope participated in 15 plays Saturday night, 12 on offense and three on special teams. But Pope believes his role in the offense will increase. "Every week Zach has improved," Pope said. "He's a very gifted athlete. He's a very good route runner. We just have to improve the learning process of what we're trying to get done each week on offense. We make a lot of adjustments each week, but he's coming along very well.
"We're looking for bigger and better things for Zach as the season unfolds."
"Learning the offense is not really hard with everybody helping you out," Fletcher said. "You listen; do what the coaches say and do what your teammates are teaching you. You come along fine."
Having spent two seasons in junior college, this year has been Fletcher's first exposure to big-time college football. But he's had no trouble adjusting to the atmosphere. "The Arkansas crowd was big, but I don't really hear the noise," Fletcher said. "I kind of get into a zone during the game, so it really didn't bother me. I heard them get quiet after I caught the ball, though. It was just silence.
Players will tell you that there's no better feeling than silencing a hostile crowd on the road. "This is exactly what I had in mind when I signed with Alabama," Fletcher said. "Just throw the ball and let me run and get it. It was pretty exciting. I got my first touchdown at Alabama, so it was real exciting."
Fletcher's catch was the capper on a big Bama victory on the road. But seven more SEC games loom ahead.
"That was a nice way to start off the conference schedule--with a big touchdown catch and a win," Fletcher acknowledged. "It gives us confidence going into next week against Georgia."