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Alabama Football Flashback: Wilcox, Defense Saves the Day vs. MSU in 1981



By Barry Allen
Alabama Athletic Media Relations

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. ?? The closer Mississippi State got the Alabama end zone on its potential game-winning touchdown drive, the more difficult it became to the move the football. 

Facing a first-and-goal at the Alabama 9-yard line with 39 seconds to play, MSU looked poised to win its second straight game over the Crimson Tide, something that had not been done since 1954-55. The Bulldogs beat the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide 6-3 in Jackson in 1980 to snap a 22-game series losing streak.  State’s upset win also snapped an Alabama and SEC record 28-game winning streak.

One year later, the Bulldogs were nine yards from making history.

Instead, history repeated itself on the Alabama side as two??time All-American Tommy Wilcox intercepted John Bond’s third down pass in the end zone and returned the ball the UA 10-yard line to preserve a hard-fought 13-10 win on Oct. 31, 1981, sending the Bulldogs to their 23rd  loss to the Crimson Tide in 24 meetings.  All-American Jim Bob Harris batted down Bond’s pass on first down and Eddie Lowe broke up a second down pass attempt.  Now, facing a third-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Bond fired a pass in the middle of the end zone that was deflected into the arms of Wilcox.

“We had a quick slant-in called on the play that was intercepted, and I believe the receiver (Glen Young) was open,” MSU head coach Emory Bellard said following the game.  “We faked right and tried to pop the ball to him quickly.  It just didn’t work.”

Wilcox finished the game with seven tackles, two pass breakups and one interception.

“Coach Bryant always says if you don’t think they can score, then you can stop them,” Wilcox said after the game.  “I just thank the Lord for this victory.  The credit should go to the linemen who rushed Bond hard, and the linebacker who tipped the pass.  I had the easy part ... just catch the football. And it sure was great.”

It was a day dominated by defense and turnovers.  The two teams combined for 13 turnovers (Alabama committed seven while MSU had six).  The Crimson Tide fumbled 11 times, losing seven.  MSU fumbled six times, losing four.  The Bulldogs also threw two interceptions.

“I’ve been around a long time,” Alabama head coach Paul Bryant said after the game.  “I’ve seen a lot of games, and been involved in a lot, but I don’t recall being involved in one exactly like that, with so many turnovers.  We fumbled 11 times and lost 7, and we lost another 40 yards in getting hit by a punt.  (Mississippi) State has a fine team and they were well-prepared, but ours showed as much determination, guts and pride as I can remember seeing. Time after time, we were in position to win and we would do something to put them in position to win.  But we would come back, rise up, and keep them from scoring.  The last time they had the ball, I had no idea they would go all the way down the field.  I guess I could second-guess myself for not going for it on fourth-and-one, but they did a tremendous job running the ball back down the field.”

State took over its own 21-yard line with 1:46 left in the game and two timeouts.  Bond completed passes of 16, 15 and 39 yards as MSU drove to the Alabama 9-yard line in five plays.  After a timeout, Bond had two passes batted down before Wilcox intercepted his third down pass.

Bond completed 6-of-19 passes for 102 yards and two interceptions in the loss.  The Bulldogs ran for 156 yards, led by Michael Haddix (9 rushes for 71yards ) and Bond (18 rushes, 49 yards and one touchdown).  Alabama piled up 287 rushing yards, led by Ken Simon (51 yards on 11 carries), Linnie Patrick (9 for 45) and Mickey Guilyard (5 for 44).  The Tide completed 6 of 14 passes for 75 yards in the win.

Jackie Cline and Mike Pitts anchored a tough Alabama defense.  Cline had 13 tackles, including one for a loss (one yard), and one fumble recovery.  Pitts added 10 tackles for the Tide.  MSU had five players in double figures in tackles, led by Johnnie Cooks with 16 stops.

“The game wasn’t very pretty, at times, but there were two fine defensive football teams out there, and they fought their hearts out,” Bellard said.

Mississippi State took the opening kickoff and drove 79 yards in 12 plays to take a quick 7-0 lead.  Haddix’s 40-yard run on second-and-8 from the MSU 49-yard line set up the Bulldogs at the Tide 11-yard line.  King picked up two yards on first down and Bond made six yards.  Knight picked up two yards and the first down on a toss sweep.  Bond then capped the drive with a one-yard sneak. Dana Moore’s extra point gave Mississippi State a 7-0 lead with 12:20 left in the first quarter.

Alabama scored on its third possession of the game following an MSU fumble at the Bulldogs’ 16-yard line.   Alabama’s Alan Gray ran for two yards on first down and was stopped for no gain on second down.  Gray’s third down pass to Paul Ott Carruth fell incomplete and the Tide had to settle for Peter Kim’s 27-yard field goal with 5:39 left in the first quarter to close the gap to 7-3.  The Crimson Tide got a 14-yard punt return from Joey Jones and started its next possession at the MSU 48-yard line with 2:01 left in the first quarter.  The Tide marched 48 yards in eight plays and capped the drive with Joe Carter’s touchdown dive with 13:58 left in the first half.  Kim’s extra point made it 10-7.

MSU punted on its next possession, but recovered an Alabama fumble on the punt to gain new life at the UA 33-yard line.  State drove to the Alabama 14-yard line and Moore kicked a 32-yard field goal to tie the score at 10-10.  On its final possession of the second quarter, Alabama moved from the MSU 49-yard line to first-and-goal at the seven in the final two minutes.  Walter Lewis had a 19-yard completion on the drive.  He also ran for six and five yards on consecutive plays to set up the Tide at the seven with 33 seconds left in the half.  Lewis gained five yards on first down and threw incomplete on second down from the 2-yard line with nine seconds left.  Without a timeout, Kim missed a 29-yard field goal and was injured on the play. He did not return to the game.

MSU missed a 42-yard field goal with 7:53 left in the third quarter, the lone scoring threat for either team in the third quarter.  State recovered an Alabama fumble at the Tide 25-yard line with 5:29 left in the quarter but fumbled the ball back to Alabama on the ensuing snap.  Following back-to-back punts, the Crimson Tide took over with 1:24 left in the third quarter and marched to what turned out to be the winning score.  Alabama drove from its own 18 to the MSU 12-yard line where Terry Sanders drilled a 28-yard field goal to put the Tide ahead, 13-10, with 10:34 left in the game.

The two teams exchanged punts and then fumbles on the next four possessions, before Alabama took over with 3:20 left in the game, but could not run out the clock.  State took over and drove to the UA 9-yard line where Wilcox saved the day with the interception.