Mississippi St. 24, Alabama 16
By Bob Johnson, AP Writer
November 4, 2006
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Sylvester Croom only wished his father was still around to be part of such a joyous homecoming.
"He'd have that big ol' smile on his face," the Mississippi State coach said of the late Rev. Sylvester Croom Sr. "I know he's smiling anyway."
Michael Henig passed for 143 yards and two touchdowns and Mississippi State beat Alabama 24-16 on Saturday to give Coach Croom his first victory over his alma mater.
"I feel so thankful. I feel blessed, having grown up in this town, having played at the University of Alabama and having coached the Mississippi State football team to this win," said Croom, the SEC's first black head football coach.
Croom played at Alabama for coach Paul "Bear" Bryant in the early 1970s. He interviewed for the Alabama head coaching job in 2003 but the Tide hired current coach Mike Shula instead. Later that year, Croom was hired by Mississippi State, but he's had few highlights since. He is now 9-23, but win No. 9 might have been his most satisfying.
There were lots of smiles on the Mississippi State sideline Saturday.
Anthony Dixon ran for 121 yards for the Bulldogs (3-7, 1-5), who snapped a 23-game Southeastern Conference road losing streak and an 18-game skid against Western division rivals.
Mississippi State was a two-touchdown underdog against the Crimson Tide (6-4, 2-4), which had not lost at home this season.
It was also a happy homecoming for Henig, a native of Montgomery.
"There's nothing better than this for me," Henig said. "I've got a lot of friends who go here. It's a 360 type game. It turns our whole season around. If I could have picked one game to win this year this would have been it."
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 24-10 halftime lead and then held the Crimson Tide to two second-half field goals.
For the second consecutive year, Alabama didn't score an offensive touchdown against the Bulldogs. Last year, Alabama's defense scored both TDs in a 17-10 win.
Boos could be heard from the Alabama crowd throughout the game and seemed mostly aimed at running back Kenneth Darby, the Crimson Tide's third leading rusher of all time. Darby has had only two 100-yard rushing games this season and has not scored a touchdown. He carried the ball 13 times for 54 yards Saturday.
"We are all down and disappointed. We all know we could have played better today," Shula said.
Mississippi State rushed for 131 yards against the Tide, with most of the yards coming from Dixon in the first half. The Bulldogs entered the game ranked 110th nationally in rushing, averaging 78 yards per game.
Alabama continued its struggles in the red zone, failing to get a touchdown in four trips inside the 20.
"We are a better football team than what we saw out there today. We thought we'd be further along by now," Shula said.
The Crimson Tide took the opening kickoff and drove 58 yards to the Mississippi State 2, but stalled and settled for a 19-yard Jamie Christiansen field goal.
The Bulldogs scored on their first possession on a 25-yard pass from Henig to Tony Burks and dominated for the rest of the half.
Mississippi State took a 10-3 lead on a 39-yard field goal by Adam Carlson in the second quarter.
Alabama appeared to come to life minutes later when Jeffrey Dukes intercepted Henig's pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown. But the excitement for Alabama was short lived.
The Bulldogs came right back and drove 78 yards for a touchdown on a 13-yard pass from Henig to Jamayel Smith. The big play of the drive was a 41-yard pass from Henig to Smith, who had beaten Dukes down the sideline.
The Bulldogs extended the lead to 24-10 late in the half when linebacker Quinton Culberson stepped in front of John Parker Wilson's pass and returned in 51 yards for a score.
The Crimson Tide had a last chance before halftime, driving the ball 75 yards to the 2 with two seconds in the half thanks to a pass interference in the end zone against the Bulldogs.
Shula, sometimes criticized for conservative play calling, passed up on a short field goal and went for the score. On a keeper, Wilson was stopped short of the goal line. A replay review upheld the call.
"I saw an opening and I thought it could get in there," Wilson said of the play. "I don't know whether it was in or not but it was close."