Win completes successful season

Alabama finished a very difficult football year in paradise Saturday as the Crimson Tide became the 27th Bama team to win 10 games in a season. Coach Dennis Franchione's squad defeated the Hawaii Warriors, 21-16, before a sellout crowd of 50,000 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.

The win gave Alabama a 10-3 record. Because of NCAA sanctions, the game was the last of the year for Bama. Franchione said it does not disturb him that Alabama will not be representing the Southeastern Conference Western Division at next week's SEC Championship Game. "Everyone knows what we did on the field," he said. Bama's 6-2 record, including a 30-12 win over Arkansas in Fayetteville, would have sent Alabama to the title game had the Tide been eligible. Instead, Arkansas will represent the Western Division.

"This team went on the road and won in some tough places, including here in Hawaii," Franchione said. "We won at Fayetteville against Arkansas, at Knoxville against Tennessee, and at Baton Rouge against LSU." The loss was Hawaii's first at home. The Warriors are 9-3 with one regular season game remaining. Franchione is now 6-0 against Hawaii, including having brought three different teams ­ New Mexico, TCU and Alabama ­ to Honolulu and posted wins. This was Alabama's first game against Hawaii, but the Tide's second game ­ and second win ­ in Honolulu. In 1985 Alabama defeated Southern Cal, 24-3, in the Aloha Bowl. Alabama returns to Honolulu to conclude the 2003 season against Hawaii.

Saturday's game, nationally-televised by ESPN, featured the nation's third best offense of Hawaii against the nation's third best defense of Alabama. Hawaii came into he game averaging 503.7 yards per game. Alabama held the Warriors to 360 yards, including minus 12 rushing.

After squandering a couple of early scoring opportunities ­ Kyle Robinson missed field goal tries of 37 and 39 yards on Bama's first two possessions ­ the Tide took advantage of a questionable decision by Hawaii to grab a 7-0 lead. Facing fourth and 15 at its own 12-yard line, Hawaii attempted a run from punt formation. While it was Hawaii's longest run of the game ­ 10 yards ­ it gave Alabama the ball at the Hawaii 22. Seven plays later Shaud Williams went over the top for a touchdown. Robinson's first of three extra point kicks followed and Alabama was in the lead through the remainder of the game.

Alabama's defense had five takeaways in the game. One of Hawaii's four passes intercepted by Bama defenders was Waine Bacon's pickoff of a Timmy Chang pass. Bacon's 30-yard return set Alabama up at Hawaii's 47. Tide quarterback Tyler Watts had an 11-yard drive, followed by tailback Santonio Beard's 13-yard rush. Two plays later Watts was shaken up on a five-yard run that set up a third-and-one at the Hawaii 14. With back-up quarterback Brodie Croyle and third tailback Ray Hudson in the game, Bama went straight up the middle with Hudson. Hudson broke one tackle, then went the distance to make it 14-0, which was the halftime score.

The Alabama offense did not have a good third quarter, the period played almost entirely in Crimson Tide territory, and the Warriors were able to get a 30-yard field goal.

Early in the fourth quarter Williams got the offense untracked with a 41-yard burst to the Hawaii 27. Two plays later Watts connected with Collins on a 26-yard touchdown pass and a 21-3 Alabama lead.

The Warriors made things interesting with a quick strike. It took just over a minute for Hawaii to get its first touchdown as Chang hit Jeremiah Cockheran on a third-and-18, 70-yard bomb to close the score to 21-10.

A terrific Lane Bearden punt started Hawaii at its on three-yard line with only 3:33 to play. But the Warriors never gave up. Hawaii drove 97 yards in just five plays ­ plus a couple of big penalties against Bama ­ to pull to 21-16 on a 112-[yard Chang to Chad Owens pass. Hawaii's two-point conversion try was stopped by Roman Harper.

Hawaii had 21 first downs to 18 for Alabama. The Warriors got six penalties by penalty, Alabama none. Bama was flagged 12 times for 126 yards in penalties, while the home team was penalized five times for 25 yards ­ all either false start or delay of game infractions.

Alabama had 62 rushes for 280 net rushing yards. Hawaii had 18 rushes for minus 12. Alabama completed nine of 17 passes with no interceptions for 93 yards. Hawaii completed 26 of 53 passes for 372 yards, but suffered four interceptions. Both sides lost a fumble. Alabama had 79 plays for 373 yards, Hawaii 61 plays for 360 yards. Alabama had the ball for 38:55, Hawaii for 21:05.

Williams had 23 carries for 160 yards, Beard 16 rushes for 86 yards. Watts completed eight of 15 passes for 81 yards. Triandos Luke had four catches for 34 yards, Sam Collins three receptions for 42 yards. Bearden averaged 41.6 yards per punt on eight kicks.

Harper had eight tackles and also caused a fumble on the opening kickoff return (which was recovered by Mark Anderson). Antwan Odom had two of Alabama's four sacks with Kindal Moorehead and Jarret Johnson also getting one. Interceptions were turned in by Charles Jones, Hirchel Bolden and Charlie Peprah, in addition to Bacon.

Franchione said, "It was a hard-fought win. Hawaii has an outstanding team. I am very proud of our team. I can't say enough about this senior class."

He said that while 27 Alabama teams have won 10 or more games ­ best in NCAA history ­ he thought that it was likely no team ever had to overcome as much as this year's squad to reach that milestone. And while he said 27 may seem like a high number, it's only 25 per cent of the teams in Bama history, which makes the milestone noteworthy this year.

One of the hardships endured by this year's team was its trip to Hawaii, when an airplane problem caused a lengthy delay and a missed day of practice. Franchione said he was stern with his team in demanding their focus and that the players responded.

He called this season his most difficult in 30 years of coaching. Alabama was under extraordinary NCAA penalties this year. He said he would relax for a day. He said there were a lot of players who would be back next season and they would take a lot from what this senior class had exhibited.

The inevitable question of "when will you sit down with (Athletics Director) Mal Moore" to sign a much-discussed new contract was given short-shrift by Franchione. He said he would return to Tuscaloosa Tuesday, then had "something like five speaking engagements in four days." He added, "We'll get to it in good time."


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