News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

A big day
for Croom

Good feelings from win over Tide lasts for MSU coach

By Chris Talbott
Associated Press Writer

STARKVILLE, Miss. — For two weeks, Sylvester Croom hid his true feelings about the importance of Saturday’s game between Mississippi State and his alma mater Alabama.

“He was as calm as I’ve ever seen him in a long time,” MSU linebacker Gabe O’Neal said.

After the Bulldogs upset the Crimson Tide 17-12, though, Croom, a former Alabama player and coach, let his emotions show through for just a few minutes.

He grabbed 250-pound defensive end Titus Brown — like Croom, a Tuscaloosa native — and carried him on his shoulder. He hugged athletic director Larry Templeton. And Templeton presented Croom with a game ball in the locker room.

“That was special,” Mississippi State spokesman Mike Nemeth said.

Saturday’s win was, too, for long-suffering Mississippi State, which is now bowl eligible with six wins after six years of three wins or less.

The Bulldogs (6-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference), who play at Arkansas on Saturday, also received six points in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll.

It was the second straight win against Alabama and also the second straight win against a ranked team for the Bulldogs.

“If no one believes now, they have their heads stuck in the sand,” Croom said.

The upset seems improbable after the way Mississippi State started, though.

Wes Carroll threw his first collegiate interception on the Bulldogs’ third play, resulting in a field goal and the end of his school-record string of 137 pass attempts to start his career.

Brown was called for defensive holding, a personal foul on a face mask and a late hit on quarterback John Parker Wilson, penalties totaling 40 yards. The holding call kept Alabama’s offense on the field and the drive resulted in another field goal.

Mississippi State defenders dropped three interceptions. Also, three short punts kept Alabama hovering just out of scoring range in the first 29 minutes as well.

Croom’s endless speeches about effort paid off in the final minute of the first half, however, when Anthony Johnson stepped in front of a Wilson pass and returned it a school-record 100 yards.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said that had the pass fallen incomplete, MSU may not have rallied.

“Even though we only scored nine points, we were controlling the game,” Saban said. “Fourth-and-one at the 1, we kick the field goal and we are up 12-3. We’re still in control of the game and that was a critical error.”

Mississippi State picked off Wilson again on the opening drive of the second half, setting up a touchdown for a 17-9 lead. The Bulldogs’ defense stiffened, holding the Tide to a field goal in the second half.

The offense then put together an 11-play drive late in the fourth quarter.

It was never pretty, covering just 38 yards. But it was effective, killing 6 minutes and leaving Alabama with only 38 seconds to mount a comeback after Mississippi State punted.

“I guess they thought they were a better team,” Mississippi State tailback Anthony Dixon said. “We beat them last year at their place.

“Then this year at our place and we shut them down. I don’t know what they are going to say about this victory, but we are going to take it.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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