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Alabama Falls to Utah, 31-17 in the 75th Allstate Sugar Bowl

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM It was Javier Arenas' sixth punt return for a touchdown in his Alabama career, extending his own school record.
It was Javier Arenas' sixth punt return for a touchdown in his Alabama career, extending his own school record.

Jan. 2, 2009

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NEW ORLEANS, La. - No. 4 Alabama battled back from an early 21-0 deficit Friday, cutting its match against No. 6 Utah to 21-17 in the second half, but the Crimson Tide was ultimately unable to overcome the deficit, falling to the Utes 31-17 in the 75th Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Alabama goes to 12-2 on the season while Utah finishes the season at 13-0.

Utah scored 21 first-quarter points, capitalizing on a John Parker Wilson interception and getting a pair of touchdown passes from Brian Johnson to take a 21-0 lead into the second quarter. Alabama responded with 17 unanswered points, including a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown by Javier Arenas, the sixth of his career, to cut the score to 21-10 at halftime.

A fumble on Utah's first possession of the third quarter gave Alabama the ball in the Utes' territory, and a 4-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to junior Glen Coffee closed the drive and cut the lead to 21-17 with 11:14 to go in the third. Utah, however, closed the game on a 10-0 run, getting a 28-yard touchdown pass from Johnson in the third and a 28-yard field goal to close the scoring in the fourth quarter.

"I'm really proud of the way our players came back in the game to get it to 21-17 that was with two field goals at that, so we could have been right in the game," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "You have to give Utah's players a lot of credit; they played some outstanding football and they were certainly playing faster in the beginning of the game than we were."

Wilson finished the game 18-of-30 for 177 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. Freshman Julio Jones was Wilson's leading receiver, finishing with seven catches for 77 yards. Coffee and freshman Mark Ingram combined for 62 yards on the ground. Coffee's 39 yards moved him into second place on the Alabama single-season rushing list with 1,386 yards this season.

"I'm really proud of the seniors," Saban said. "They have done a great job in helping us turn this around," Saban said. "Their attitude, their leadership, the commitment and work ethic this team had, the togetherness, being responsible--they represented the University and the football program extremely well. Of all the teams I've coached, this team probably played closer to its capacity, not today, but for the most part, closer to its capacity than most teams that you have a chance to coach, because of the great character and attitude that they have."

The game was Alabama's first Sugar Bowl appearance since its 34-13 national championship win over Miami to close the 1992 season, and its first Bowl Championship Series appearance since playing in the Orange Bowl in the 1999 season. The game extended Alabama's NCAA-best bowl appearances mark to 56.