By Scott Latta, UA Media Relations
SHREVEPORT, La.--Down 31-17 with less than 14 minutes left in Thursday's game against Oklahoma State, Alabama scored two late touchdowns thanks to strong special teams play and a little trickery in the red zone, but a 27-yard field goal by OSU's Jason Ricks with 13 seconds left won the game for the Cowboys, 34-31, at Independence Stadium.
Alabama never led in Thursday's game, though the Tide offense strung together scoring drives of 72, 80 and 21 yards in a 276-yard effort.
"It was a tough game. I don't really know what to say," Alabama sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "I just appreciate the seniors. It's been tough the last month, but we all stuck together and didn't give up, and I think that says a lot about our team."
Alabama went to the half down 24-14 after Oklahoma State put up 251 total yards in the first half, capitalizing on an early Alabama fumble from senior Ken Darby to grab the early 7-0 lead when Dantrell Savage scored from one yard out less than six minutes into the game.
Alabama responded with a nine-play, 72-yard scoring drive of its own, with Wilson connecting on passes of nine and 11 yards, and sophomore Jimmy Johns carrying the ball twice for 14 yards. After a Keith Brown reverse gave the Tide 1st-and-10 at the Oklahoma State 18-yard line, Wilson found junior Matt Caddell in the end zone on a slant pattern for the score to tie the score at seven.
The touchdown pass gave Wilson the single-season Alabama record for touchdown passes in a season, with 17. Wilson also extended his school records for pass attempts (379) and passing yards (2,707). Wilson was 18-of-33 for 168 yards and a touchdown. Wilson's 18 completions also gave him the single-season Alabama record for completions in a season, with 216.
"We moved the ball pretty good today," Wilson said. "We had a great game plan, and there wasn't a play I questioned. We threw a lot at them offensively, we just didn't score enough to win the game."
DJ Hall extended his school record for single-season receiving yards with five catches for 42 yards, giving the junior 2,056 yards on the season. Senior Ken Darby had four catches for 30 yards, a career high, and junior Matt Caddell caught three for 33 yards and a touchdown.
A four-yard touchdown run by Keith Toston gave Oklahoma State the 14-7 second-quarter lead, and a 28-yard Ricks field goal extended the Cowboys' lead to 17-7 with 6:54 left in the opening half.
Alabama then answered with a nine-play, 80-yard drive of its own, with senior Tim Castille scoring from one yard out to pull the score to 17-14 before a seven-yard run from Toston put OSU on top at the half, 24-14.
After the Tide opened the third quarter with a 24-yard field goal from junior Jamie Christensen to pull the score to 24-17, Oklahoma State captured all the momentum of the 45,054 fans in attendance with a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bobby Reid to Adarius Bowman to extend the score to 31-17. A Wilson interception then gave the Cowboys the ball back with 12:48 left in the game and the 14-point lead.
It was then, Alabama's players said, they remembered the words of interim head coach Joe Kines.
"Coach Kines told us that we signed up for 60 minutes," said junior Simeon Castille, who recorded his sixth interception of the season in the Tide loss. "I don't think we ever gave up. We made plays when we had to, we just came up short."
Senior Juwan Simpson, who tied a career-high with 13 tackles in the game, agreed.
"We put full faith in Coach Kines and the defensive staff. We're supposed to stop them, and you can't take anything away from Oklahoma State, they made plays."
Following the interception, the Tide defense held the Cowboy offense to just two yards on three plays, forcing a Matt Fodge punt, which was fielded at the 14-yard line by freshman Javier Arenas and taken 86 yards for the score to pull Alabama within seven, 31-24 with 10:50 remaining.
The score was the second of Arenas' career and the longest punt return in Independence Bowl history.
On the ensuing kickoff, freshman Chris Rogers forced a Grant Jones fumble and recovered it on the OSU 21-yard line. Five plays later, Wilson lateraled the ball to freshman right tackle Andre Smith, who carried the ball two yards into the end zone, tying the score 31-31 with 8:41 remaining.
"It was a great experience being able to score the touchdown," Smith said. "We'd worked on that play about a week and coach said that he'd give it to me if we got inside the 5."
After trading possessions, the Oklahoma State offense strung together a 10-play, 74-yard drive to the Alabama 10-yard line with 13 seconds remaining, and with the Tide defense in what Kines called its "desperation block" formation, Ricks' 27-yard field goal split the uprights for the 34-31 lead.
"You've got to give credit to their coaching staff and their team, they found a way to win," Kines said. "Our youngsters did everything we asked them to do for a month and they played their hearts out to have it come down to the wire like it did.
"We've got a lot of good young players who work hard. Alabama is important to them and this university is important to the state. We don't settle for average at Alabama."
Thursday's game was Alabama's NCAA-best 54th bowl game. The Crimson Tide leads the NCAA with 30 bowl victories, with Thursday's game running the Tide's all-time bowl record to 30-21-3.