Dec. 4, 2009
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The inaugural Southeastern Conference Championship game in 1992 pitted the league's best offense against the league's best defense, and in the end, the Alabama defense won the championship.
Alabama, who led the NCAA in scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense and total defense, used a fourth-quarter interception return to turn back the Florida Gators, 28-21, on a frigid afternoon at Legion Field.
Antonio Langham's 27-yard interception return with 3:16 left in the game snapped a 21-21 tie and clinched the first SEC Championship Game for the undefeated Crimson Tide, who would later beat Miami (34-13) in the Sugar Bowl to win its 12th national championship.
Following an exchange of punts, Florida took over at its own 21-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Shane Matthews' pass was intercepted by Langham and the Tide cornerback weaved his way 27 yards for the winning score. Michael Proctor's extra point gave the Tide a 28-21 lead.
The high-powered Gators offense had one last chance following the interception return. On first down from the 22, Matthews completed a 22-yard pass to Willie Jackson at the UF 39. After an incomplete pass, Matthews' second down pass was tipped and intercepted by Michael Rogers at the UF 48. From there, Alabama ran out the clock and secured its 20th SEC Championship.
The game lived up to its billing as the Gators scored on its first offensive possession to take an early 7-0 lead. Matthews engineered an 11-play, 77-yard drive capped by a 5-yard TD pass to Errict Rhett. Judd Davis' extra point gave the Gators the lead with 10:03 left in the first quarter. Alabama answered on its first offensive possession with a 10-play, 72-yard drive capped by Derrick Lassic's 3-yard run. Proctor's extra point tied the game at 7-7 with 5:07 left in the quarter.
The Crimson Tide would score the next two touchdowns to build a 21-7 third quarter lead. Alabama doubled its lead to 14-7 with a short drive in the second quarter, aided by David Palmer's 20-yard punt return and a 15-yard facemask penalty. Jay Barker's 30-yard pass to Curtis Brown with 4:49 left in the first half capped a 5-play, 42-yard drive.
UA held a 167-141 lead in total offense in the first half, while the UA defense held UF to just nine rushing yards. Following a missed Florida field goal, Alabama began its third possession of the third quarter at its own 34-yard line. The Crimson Tide needed just four plays and 93 seconds to cover the 66 yards, capped by Lassic's 15-yard run that put the Tide up 21-7 with 5:14 left in the third quarter.
Florida answered immediately with a 9-play, 68-yard drive to pull to within 21-14 on Matthews' 4-yard pass to Willie Jackson. Davis added the extra point with 1:21 left in the third quarter. The Gators tied the game on their second possession of the fourth quarter when Rhett capped a 9-play, 51-yard drive with a 1-yard toss sweep into the end zone. Davis' extra point made it 21-21 with 8:09 left.
The defenses stiffened and forced three straight punts and the first SEC Championship seemed destined for overtime before Langham made the play of the game and sent the Tide into the national championship game with his game-winning interception return.
Alabama won the inaugural SEC Championship in 1933 and then won the first SEC Championship Game during the 1992 season.
The Crimson Tide seeks its 22nd SEC Championship this Saturday against the No. 1 ranked Florida Gators. The weather in the Georgia Dome won't resemble that of the 1992 season, but the stakes will be just as high.