Alabama Wins Another Nail-Biter

In this incredible five-game stretch of Alabama football games, the outcome has rested at or near the final play of the game week after week. Some weeks it was the offense making a play, some weeks a defensive play, and some weeks a special team play. Saturday the key play may have been a re-play.



Alabama went to Oxford and came out with a 27-24 win over Ole Miss. The only thing that kept the Rebels from having a chance to win or tie the game on the final play of the game was that on the next-to-last play of the game a long pass completion by Mississippi was overturned by Southeastern Conference replay officials.

Officials with benefit of replay were able to correct the wrong of the official on the field, who apparently couldn't see down the sideline as well as Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban could. Saban saw the Rebels' Shay Hodge come from out of bounds back into the field of play and called a time out to challenge the call. It was obvious Hodge had been out of bounds before out-battling Tide cornerback Lionel Mitchell for the ball. That's not legal. And since it was a fourth down play with only seven seconds to play, it was left only for Bama to take a knee and wrap up the victory.

With the win, Alabama improved its record to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in SEC games. Mississippi dropped to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the league.

Alabama continues in SEC play and returns to Bryant-Denny Stadium next week to host Tennessee. An announcement will be made Sunday as to kickoff time and television coverage. The game will either begin at 2:30 p.m. CDT and be televised by CBS or it will begin at 11:30 a.m. CDT and be televised on the SEC's regional Lincoln Financial network.

Alabama scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to come from behind and take the win over the Rebels. A short touchdown drive was set up by a nice punt return by Javier Arenas and the winning 24-yard field goal by Leigh Tiffin was set up by an interception by Ezekial Knight.

A smart call by Alabama Coach Nick Saban looked like it might be trumped by clutch Ole Miss offense in the final three minutes.

When Arenas made another excellent punt return, and the Rebels were guilty of a personal foul, it seemed the Tide had a chance to put the game away. Only 4:22 remained. There were some curious calls. A pass from John Parker Wilson to D.J. Hall gained 14 yards to the Rebels' 15, but Hall went out of bounds and that gain took only a few seconds off the clock. Next Alabama threw an incomplete pass, again no appreciable loss of playing time. A run failed to gain, and then Wilson completed another pass, this one to Mike McCoy for six yards—short of the first down. And McCoy went out of bounds, stopping the clock with 3:11. Bama had managed to use barely a minute.

Alabama lined up for a 26-yard field goal try, but it was a fake. Even though holder P.J. Fitzgerald didn't come close to making the needed yardage, the play meant the Rebels were starting at their own 14 with only 3:04 to play.

But Mississippi quarterback Seth Adams made big plays, including completing a fourth-and-long to Marshall Hicks for a first down.

Adams got the Rebels into Alabama territory to the 33. Rashad Johnson made a key tackle, there was an incomplete pass, and then Brandon Deaderick sacked Sadms at the 46 as the clock ticked under 20 seconds. Adams then made the long toss to Hodge at the Bama five, the play that was overturned and effectively ended the game. Seven seconds remained.

Had the play not been overturned, it appeared the Rebels were lining up for a play, although the plan could have been to spike the ball and kill the clock. That would give Ole Miss the option of kicking a field goal and sending the game to overtime or running a play in a try for the winning touchdown.

Alabama had a 17-10 halftime lead, but the Rebels dominated Bama in the third quarter to take a seven-point lead going to the fourth quarter.

Ole Miss got the second half started with Benjarvus Green going a career-long 56 yards to a first down at the Alabama three. Green-Ellis went right up the middle on a third and one play. It looked like Alabama might make a play at the goalline, but Adams scrambled outside for a three-yard touchdown run. Less than two minutes into the third quarter, the game was tied at 17-17.

Alabama seemed poised to take back the lead in a hurry. Arenas had another good kick return to past midfield and on first down Terry Grant ran 22 yards to the Ole Miss 24. Two plays later Wilson hit D.J. Hall for a 13-yard gain to the Rebels' 13. Two runs made it third and one inside the five and Glen Coffee had the run inside the three. Unfortunately, Coffee didn't have the ball at the end of the run. His fumble turned the ball over to the Rebels.

After the Rebels missed a 35-yard field goal, Wilson and Hall connected on a 36-yard gain to the Ole Miss 33-yard line. But Wilson was hit as he attempted to pass and the ball was intercepted, the Tide's second turnover in as many trips into Mississippi territory.

Although Arenas had great kick returns (4 kickoffs for 88 yards, even though a penalty erased a lot of yardage, and two punt returns for 71 yards, and even though Tiffin kicked two field goals and three extra points, and even though Alabama kick coverage was solid, there was one major breakdown in special teams. Neither team punted until 4:16 to play in the third quarter. Then it was Alabama's misfortune that Fitzgerald had his punt blocked. The Rebels were set up inside the Alabama 10.

Mississippi nearly self-destructed with a holding call on first down, but on third down Adams got the ball to 6-3 Michael Hicks over 6-1 Simeon Castille for a touchdown and a 24-17 Ole Miss lead. That would be the score as the fourth quarter got underway.

It was to be Alabama's quarter.

It began when Arenas returned a punt 55 yards to the Ole Miss 21 with 8:56 to play. Terry Grant, Mr. Football in Mississippi a couple of years ago, made a successful return to his home state, and this drive was a big part of it.

Grant got the ball on all four plays, including a 17-yard run to the Ole Miss three and the three-yard touchdown run, also at left end.

With 7:11 to play the game was tied at 24-24.

After kickoff coverage held the Rebels at their 25, the Rebels had an incomplete pass. Then Zeke Knight, a former wide receiver now playing linebacker, made an excellent interception and returned it 23 yards to the Ole Miss six-yard line.

The offense didn't take advantage of the situation, but Tiffin's 24-yard field goal made it 27-24, a score that would hold up for the final 5:14

Alabama's 17-10 halftime lead could have been a little more. Leigh Tiffin missed a 35-yard field goal attempt as time expired. And everyone was talking about time, because of the Tide's clock mismanagement going to intermission.

Simeon Castille, whose interception preserved Bama's 30-24 win over Houston a week earlier, intercepted Ole Miss quarterback Seth Adams at the Alabama 42 with under a minute and a half to play. Bama moved to the Mississippi 25 on a pass that was completed with about 20 seconds to play. Bama, with two time outs remaining, didn't use one and the clock ran down to four seconds, necessitating the long field goal try.

Ole Miss burned two time outs before Tiffin's kick sailed wide right.

Tiffin had given Alabama a 3-0 lead after the Tide seemed to botch a great touchdown opportunity on its first drive. Bama moved to a first-and-goal at the Ole Miss five as John Parker Wilson completed four passes in the drive. But then the Tide was flagged for a false start and had a draw play blow up into another five-yard loss. Tiffin kicked a 27-yard field goal.

The Rebels took a 7-3 lead with a drive that was almost too easy. Mississippi's Adams completed all four of his passes and Benjarvus Green-Ellis had a key run. The Rebs went 80 yards in nine plays with Adams connecting with Dexter McCluster on a seven-yard touchdown pass. Joshua Shene kicked the extra point.

In a half in which there were no punts, Alabama got the lead back with a 16-play, 64-yard drive that took almost six minutes off the clock. The Tide was successful on four third down challenges. Glen Coffee got the final three yards for the touchdown and the 10-7 lead.

Ole Miss came back with a drive that featured a successful conversion on fourth and three from the Alabama 37. But with fourth and four from the Alabama five, the Rebels settled for a 22-yard Shene field goal and the game was tied at 10-10.

The final score of the first half came on a one-yard quarterback sneak by Wilson, who got a fine block from center Evan Cardwell. It capped a nine-play, 70-yard drive that included a key third down 14-yard completion to Keith Brown. With a personal foul after the play, Bama had first and goal at the Ole Miss 10.

Wilson completed 26 of 40 passes for 265 yards. His one interception came when he was hit from behind as he passed. Hall had 11 receptions for 140 yards and Matt Caddell had seven for 49—all in the first half. Grant had 16 rushes for 62 yards, Coffee 12 for 41, and Roy Upchurch five for 39.

In team statistics, Alabama had 26 first downs to 19 for the Rebels, but Mississippi had the better of it in yardage with the Rebs having 143 rushing yards to Bama's 114 and Ole Miss having 284 passing yards to the Tide's 365. (In total offense it was Ole Miss 427, Alabama 379.)

Alabama was good on nine of 16 third down plays, the Rebels 4-12. Alabama was penalized three times for 20 yards, Ole Miss six for 47. Alabama had a grand total of two more seconds of playing time—Bama 30:01, Ole Miss 29:59.

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