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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2006
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Alabama wide receiver Nikita Stover, a graduate of Hartselle High, hauls in a 17-yard pass against Oklahoma State during the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Thursday. Oklahoma State won 34-31 on a field goal with eight seconds left in the game.
AP photo by Rogelio V. Solis
Alabama wide receiver Nikita Stover, a graduate of Hartselle High, hauls in a 17-yard pass against Oklahoma State during the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Thursday. Oklahoma State won 34-31 on a field goal with eight seconds left in the game.

Tide canít stop OSUís final drive
Alabama ends disappointing
year with Independence Bowl loss

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2460

SHREVEPORT, La. — It has become an all-too-familiar sight the past two months — Alabama players walking off the field, heads bowed down and eyes staring at the ground.

Count Alabama linebacker Juwan Simpson, elected team captain the previous day, as one of the ones trudging off the field with disappointment after the Crimson Tide's 34-31 Independence Bowl loss against Oklahoma State on Thursday.

The Alabama fans cheering after the game did little to perk up the Austin High graduate.

It marked the final game for him and his fellow Tide seniors, and they had another close loss to show for it.

"It would have been better if we had been beat by 50," Simpson said.

"I don't know if I would have been this emotional. To go out there, fought this hard and how hard we worked up to this point, that's what makes it so tough right now."

In a season that likely will be remembered as one of few triumphs and many failures, Alabama finished with four straight losses en route to a 6-7 record. The last victory came against Florida International on Oct. 28.

Disappointment after disappointment followed Alabama, which rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter only to see Oklahoma State win on Jason Ricks' 27-yard field goal with eight seconds to play.

"There's nothing magic to winning football games," interim Alabama head coach Joe Kines said. "It's hard work, and wins are hard to come by. You just have to keep working. I really thought we would win it in overtime."

And at the start of the fourth quarter, overtime appeared out of reach.

Oklahoma State used its no-huddle offense to run the Tide ragged. The Cowboys had 301 total yards by the start of the fourth quarter, and it appeared that the Cowboys were just getting stronger.

But Javier Arenas broke an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and an Independence Bowl record to cut the lead to 31-24.

Then on the kickoff, Grant Jones fumbled the ball, which Alabama recovered on the OSU 21.

After quarterback John Parker Wilson found Hartselle High product Nikita Stover for a 17-yard gain to the OSU 3-yard line, the Tide once again brought out its jumbo package, which features its biggest running backs.

The Cowboys stopped fullback Tim Castille on the 2-yard line. But this time, Alabama used something a little different in the package.

Wilson dropped back to pass on the next play, looked left and found left tackle Andre Smith behind the line of scrimmage. Smith rumbled in for the score that was ruled a 2-yard rushing play.

"It was just brilliant coaching," offensive coordinator Dave Rader joked.

"We said sometime this past summer that we would have Andre try to do it. We drew it up and coach (Dave) Ungerer said he had tape on it, and we watched it and kind of did this."

Both teams remained at a stalemate until the Cowboys began marching down the field with 3:18 remaining.

On a big third-and-nine play on the Alabama 41-yard line with time running down, Oklahoma State quarterback Bobby Reid found Dantrell Savage on a screen pass for a 26-yard gain.

The play put the Cowboys in field-goal range.

Alabama did its best to ice Ricks by using all three of its timeouts before the kick. But Ricks put the ball through the left side of the uprights for the win.

"I knew it was going to be my last game, and we were trying to win for the coaches," said
Alabama safety Jeffrey
Dukes. "We knew it would be hard for the coaches to go out with a loss. (Coach Kines) pushed us for this game more than anything, and we came up short.
"

Grading the Crimson Tide

Daily Sports Writer Josh Cooper grades Alabama's performance in its 34-31 loss to Oklahoma State on Thursday, giving the Tide a letter grade from A+ to F in four categories.

OFFENSE: B+

The Tide had difficulty moving the ball at times, but 24 offensive points with three red zone touchdowns means an incredibly successful day. Top it off with a cool trick-play lateral to Andre Smith, and the Tide probably had its best offensive day against a power-conference opponent since maybe Florida in 2005.

DEFENSE: C

Alabama's defense allowed 419 yards to Oklahoma State. When the Tide needed a stop at the end, the defense didn't deliver. When Joe Kines takes the blame for the loss, that normally means it's the defense's fault.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Alabama didn't have anything going until Javier Arenas' 86-yard punt return. On every punt return leading up to the play, Arenas had called for a fair catch, something he hadn't done all season.

OVERALL:B

It's unfortunate for the Tide to play so well, correct all the mistakes that plagued it throughout the season and still lose. Alabama fought back from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter, while displaying some offensive brilliance. Well, it's onward and maybe upward to the new coach.

Alabama best and worst

Best play call ... of the year: Yes, we've done this before, but the call to lateral to Andre Smith on the Oklahoma State 2-yard line was clearly the best move Alabama made. Not only was it a brilliant call, but it even had people in the press box mouthing "wow" to one another.

Best national anthem: You really can't beat the Temptations. Some of us were hoping they would break into "My Girl" at the end of "The Star-Spangled Banner." How did the Independence Bowl get these guys?

Worst fan showing in the casinos: Not sure why it turned out this way, but Oklahoma State fans more than outnumbered the Alabama fans in Shreveport's casinos. Part of the reason probably was that so many Alabama fans show up in RVs leading up to the game that the Horseshoe, Diamond Jacks and "insert tacky name here" were deprived of the Crimson armada at the slot machines.

Worst ending to a season: A loss in the Independence Bowl to finish under .500. The Tide hoped for bigger and better things for the 2006 season.

Josh Cooper,
Daily Sports Writer

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