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October 15, 2005

Croyle, Christensen lead 'Bama past Rebels

OXFORD, Miss. -- Alabama's special season is still alive, thanks to Brodie Croyle's grit and Jamie Christensen's poise.

Croyle led a decisive drive in the final minute to set up Christensen's 31-yard field goal as time expired to lift the sixth-ranked Crimson Tide past Mississippi 13-10 on Saturday.

Croyle converted three third downs on the final possession for Alabama (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference), which has its highest ranking since the 2000 preseason yet looked out of sync against an inspired Ole Miss team looking for its first big win under new coach Ed Orgeron.

``He's the same on the first play or the last play,'' Alabama coach Mike Shula said of Croyle.

The senior quarterback helped the Tide shake off their sluggishness and made the plays when they counted to prolong a remarkable start to the season.

Alabama is 6-0 for the first time since 1996, when the Tide started with seven straight wins, and now can focus on next week's showdown with rival Tennessee.

``We hadn't played well all day, and to go 80 (actually 63 yards) to get a simple field goal ... That's what it's all about,'' Croyle said.

Alabama began its decisive drive at its own 24-yard line with 2:39 to play.

Croyle, held in check for much of the second half by an aggressive Rebels defense, took command. He was 3-of-5 for 22 yards on the drive with three key conversions -- a 20-yard run on third-and-9, a 7-yard pass to Matt Miller on third-and-2 and a 2-yard sneak on third-and-1 in the final minute.

That set up Kenneth Darby's 16-yard run to the Ole Miss 14. Alabama called time out with 3 seconds left, Christensen converted his game-winner from the right hash, and a celebration ensued near midfield.

``I've done it a thousand times. It was no different, except what was at stake,'' Christensen said. ``It's a dream come true.''

Croyle finished 22-of-37 passing for 234 yards while Darby, the SEC's leading rusher, had 70 of his 100 yards in the second half.

``I give them credit. They surprised us,'' Darby said. ``We knew they would play hard, but they played extremely hard and made it hard all day.''

He appeared to give Alabama a spark early in the second half when he burst 48 yards untouched to give the Crimson Tide a 10-7 lead.

But Ole Miss (2-4, 0-3) wouldn't let the Tide pull away, and Robert Bass' 24-yard field goal early in the fourth tied it at 10.

``It's always tough to come close and lose,'' Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Willis said. ``We knew we could play with them all along, but we just made some key mistakes.''

Neither team's offense could generate much of a threat the rest of the way until Alabama's game-winning drive in the closing minutes.

``We have to keep fighting,'' Orgeron said. ``We were close, but not good enough. I came here to win. We got close, but we let it slip away from us.''

Keith Brown stepped forward as the top replacement for injured Alabama receiver Tyrone Prothro, catching six passes for 79 yards.

Prothro, the big-play threat who broke his left leg in the Florida win, ``will be missed, but it has given other guys an opportunity to step up,'' Shula said.

The Crimson Tide seemed ripe for an upset after an exhilarating rout of Florida two weeks ago and with the Volunteers coming to Tuscaloosa next week.

Ole Miss used a fired-up defense and just enough offense to put together its best game under its new coach.

``The (Rebels') defense did a good job with their blitzes, and they're fast up front,'' Shula said. ``They deserve a lot of credit.''

Against the SEC's second-best pass defense, Micheal Spurlock was 19-of-32 for 210 yards, his third consecutive 200-yard passing game, with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Mario Hill.

``We were right there close, but close isn't good enough,'' Spurlock said.

The Rebels held Darby to just 30 yards in the first half and led 7-3 at halftime. That margin could have been bigger -- Ole Miss missed one field goal and had another blocked.

The Rebels' touchdown came after forcing a turnover from the SEC's stingiest team which entered with just five turnovers.

Linebacker Garry Pack recovered DJ Hall's first-quarter fumble at the Tide 26, and three plays later, Spurlock hit Hill for the TD.

The Tide cut it to four early in the second on Christensen's 43-yard field goal.


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