Long Wait Over for Sherrill
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) _ Jackie Sherrill’s personal burden and Mississippi State’s misery against Alabama have been relieved.
``We’ll celebrate this game for a long time. I hope to hell it’s not 15 years before we have the opportunity to beat them again,″ Sherrill said after his Bulldogs upset Alabama 17-16 late Saturday night.
Brian Hazlewood kicked a 39-yard field goal with 8:49 left and the much-maligned Mississippi State defense, ranked last in the Southeastern Conference, shut Alabama down the final three possessions.
Mississippi State (4-5, 2-4) won against Alabama for only the second time in 38 games. It was Sherrill’s first victory as a coach against his alma mater in eight tries, six with the Bulldogs.
``So many people _ players, students _ for so many years, they have been carrying that burden, and all of sudden the burden is gone,″ Sherrill said. ``They can no longer say, `well we haven’t beaten Alabama.′ We’ve beaten everybody in this league since I’ve been here.″
The loss kept Alabama from clinching its fourth SEC championship game appearance in five years, and dropped the Tide seven spots to 15th in The Associated Press Top 25 poll released Sunday.
``If we won this game, we would have been in the championship game and would have taken a little pressure off of us. We didn’t do it, so it will be sort of an uptight week,″ said Alabama coach Gene Stallings, whose team must beat Auburn to ensure another title game matchup against No. 1 Florida.
Said safety Kevin Jackson, ``We put ourselves in a predicament. This week we have to worry about Auburn.″
It appeared that Alabama kicker Jon Brock, whose missed extra point in the first half proved costly, and quarterback Freddie Kitchens, benched for the most of the game after a key interception, would have a chance to redeem themselves.
Kitchens drove the Tide to the 39 in the final minute. But his fourth-and-4 pass was incomplete and Brock never got to try a game-winning field goal.
Alabama had its only lead when Brock’s 42-yard field goal with 11:27 left made it 16-14.
On the next offensive play, State quarterback Derrick Taite threw a short pass to 248-pound tight end Reginald Kelly, who rumbled 69 yards to the Alabama 11 to set up Hazlewood’s game-winner.
Izell McGill’s second interception, off backup Warren Foust, ended the next Alabama drive. Paul Lacoste’s 19th tackle of the game was a sack of Kitchens forced a Crimson Tide punt with about three minutes left.
Both goalposts were torn down within two minutes after State posted its first victory over the Crimson Tide since a 6-3 shocker in 1980 that broke top-ranked Alabama’s SEC record 28-game winning streak.
Big wins are more common occurrences for Alabama, which has won six national championships.
``We just didn’t play the way we are used to playing at Alabama,″ defensive back Deshea Townsend said. ``We don’t tear down goalposts. It is just a game and there is always another year.″
Alabama lost despite Dennis Riddle (19 carries for 103 yards) and Shaun Alexander (15 for 107) becoming the first Tide runners to rush for 100 yards in the same game since 1992.
Alexander, whose first carry came with 12 minutes left in the second quarter, had another solid performance. A week earlier in a 26-0 victory at Louisiana State, the redshirt freshman came off the bench for a school-record 291 yards and four touchdowns.
``It is probably the biggest win that’s been here for a long time,″ said Sherrill, who played on the Bear Bryant-coached Crimson Tide teams that won national titles in 1964 and 1965.
Mississippi State, 3-8 last season, must win against Arkansas and Mississippi for Sherrill to avoid consecutive losing seasons for the first time in his 19-year coaching career. The Bulldogs went to three bowls in four seasons after Sherrill arrived in 1991, following just one winning season the previous decade.
Alabama quickly answered both Mississippi State first-half touchdowns, including Foust directing an 11-play, 80-yard drive in his first action. Alexander scored on an 11-yard TD run with 2:46 left, but Brock’s extra point attempt was wide right.
Lamont Woodberry’s diving 12-yard TD catch after McGill intercepted Kitchens gave State a 14-7 lead. A play before the touchdown, Jackson was called for pass interference on the third-and-23.
Robert Isaac, who rushed for 103 yards on 21 carries, put State in front with a 17-yard run after emerging from a pack of defenders at the 15 in the final minute of the first quarter. Riddle capped Alabama’s next possession with a 3-yard TD run.