By Scott Latta
TUSCALOOSA, Ala.- John Parker Wilson threw for 253 yards and a touchdown in his first career start and the Alabama defense withheld a late Hawaii comeback for a 25-17 win to open its 112th football season Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Alabama win was the first in the newly-expanded Bryant-Denny Stadium. With the additional seating added in the north end zone, the sellout crowd of 92,138 was the largest to ever witness a football game in the state of Alabama.
With no time left on the clock and Hawaii in Alabama territory, Tide sophomore Lionel Mitchell stepped in front of a Colt Brennan pass in the end zone to end the Warrior threat and seal the win for the Tide.
"I thought it was a great win," Alabama Coach Mike Shula said. "Any win is a great win, and we worked as hard as we can. Did we play perfect football? No, and that's better newsÂ--we won the game and know we'll get better."
Brennan threw for 259 of his 350 passing yards in the second half, taking the Warriors down the field on consecutive drives late before throwing his first interception as time expired. He ended the night 30-of-44 with a pair of touchdowns.
"Our little mistakes were ongoing in the game," Hawaii coach June Jones said. "We can't make those mistakes on the road and expect to win the game."
With just over seven minutes left, Hawaii's Ryan Grice-Mullen reeled in a 31-yard touchdown pass from Brennan to cap off a 7-play, 85-yard drive. Dan Kelly's extra point pulled the Warriors to within eight of the Tide, at 25-17.
Alabama opened the fourth quarter with a 27-yard Leigh Tiffin field goal after a 12-play, 68-yard drive to run the score to 25-10. A Keith Brown catch that was originally ruled a touchdown was wiped off on an instant replay challenge from Jones.
The incomplete pass was Brown's second potential touchdown catch of the night that was ruled out-of-bounds.
"We were inches away from another field goal, we were inches away from a touchdown instead of a safety, we were inches away from another touchdown with Keith Brown. So if those three plays happen, the score's a little bit different," Shula said. "I think that has a little bit of a silver lining and we'll have a little more urgency knowing that we played as well as we could have and it could have been misleading."
The Warriors capitalized on good field position with a three-play, 50-yard drive with 6:11 left in the third quarter after fielding the P.J. Fitzgerald punt at the 50-yard line. A 16-yard touchdown pass from Brennan to Reagan Mauia pulled Hawaii to within 12 of Alabama at 22-10 with 4:59 left in the third.
The Tide started the second half with an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped off by a 35-yard touchdown catch by Brown to extend the lead to 22-3. The catch put Brown over the 1,000-yard receiving mark for his career.
Brown ended the night with six catches for 132 yards and a touchdown.
"It was fun," Brown said. "My team depends on me to make plays like the other receivers. When my number was called I had to step up and make plays. I couldn't be the guy to drop a pass and not make big plays."
Wilson ended the night 16-of-29 for 253 yards and a touchdown.
"John Parker did a good job adjusting," Shula said. "They played a lot of base defense and it was different from what they showed on the tape."
With 8:54 left in the half, a 55-yard Fitzgerald punt pinned the Warriors inside their one-yard line. Three minutes later, Hawaii punter Kurt Milne fumbled a low snap out of the back of the Hawaii end zone.
The officials originally ruled that Alabama's Roy Upchurch recovered the ball in the end zone, but after further review the touchdown was wiped off when the officials ruled that Upchurch recovered the ball out of bounds and awarded Alabama a safety to make the score 12-3.
The Tide then mounted an eight-play, 49-yard drive, capped off by a 23-yard Tiffin field goal with 1:19 left to make the score 15-3. Brown highlighted the drive by reeling in a 36-yard pass from Wilson and absorbing a hit at the Hawaii eight yard line.
"[Brown] probably made more plays tonight on his own where the ball was up in the air just going and getting it than he's had since we've been here," Shula said. "He had a great look in his eye. Even after he got clobbered on that one that hung up in the air, he really kind of shook it off and went back in.
"If that's a sign of things to come then he's in for a great year of helping our football team," he said.
Alabama opened the second quarter with a 3-yard Tim Castille touchdown run with 14:30 left in the half to cap off a 10-play, 61-yard drive to take the 10-3 lead. Jimmy Johns had five rushes for 38 yards on the drive. He ended the night with eight rushes for 58 yards.
"All I can ever remember Alabama's been a running team," Johns said. "We've been running the ball as long as I can remember, so it's fine with me.
Hawaii and Alabama traded field goals in the first quarter, with the Warriors driving 26 yards in seven plays. Kelly booted a 42-yard field goal with 11:31 left on the clock to take the 3-0 lead.
Alabama answered with a nine-play, 65-yard drive of its own, capping it off with a 31-yard Tiffin kick to tie the score at 3-3.
Tiffin was one of 18 first-time players to play in the game for Alabama, which also used eight first-time starters.
"It was exciting," left tackle Andre Smith said. "It was definitely a learning experience as far as how the speed was. Overall I had a great time."