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Williams Applies the Finishing Touch for Alabama : Citrus Bowl: His last-minute scoring reception caps a 321-yard, two-touchdown day and gives Crimson Tide a 24-17 victory over Ohio State.

TIMES DEPUTY SPORTS EDITOR

Four years ago, Sherman Williams scored his first touchdown for Alabama. On Monday, he scored his last. In between were 45 victories, five losses and two ties--the most victories by any class in Alabama history.

And for Williams, Alabama’s 24-17 triumph over Ohio State in the Florida Citrus Bowl will stay with him for a long time. It wasn’t that he ran for 166 yards and caught eight passes for another 155 yards but what he did with less than a minute to play that will remain in everyone’s memory.

Jay Barker, the heralded but seldom spectacular Alabama quarterback, went back for his 37th pass, spotted Williams about four yards away and tossed it to him. Williams caught the ball and sped through the defense for 50 yards to turn a 17-17 tie into an Alabama victory.

Ohio State made a spirited attempt to score in the last 42 seconds, driving to the Alabama 39, but the game ended when Tommy Johnson knocked the ball away from a cluster of Buckeye receivers and Crimson Tide defenders.

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At that point, Williams seemed oblivious to the 71,195 in the stands. He sprinted to the end zone to get the game ball.

And, just as he did when he scored his first touchdown against Vanderbilt in 1991, he ran to the stands and gave it to his mother, Betty.

“He didn’t say anything this time,” she said. “On his first touchdown, he said, ‘I love you, momma.’ I said, ‘I love you, too.’ ”

And so, from the school that brought you Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Forrest Gump, another Alabama legend is made.

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“It was a great win for us,” said Alabama Coach Gene Stallings. “I’m so pleased, but you know that. What really pleases me is that it set a record for this class. They set a school record with 45 wins, they have a national championship ring (1992) and they won with style. They weren’t always the most talented, but they were willing to do what it takes to be champions.”

Monday’s game--clearly the best in its day-after, anti-climactic time slot--got interesting about the time everyone started switching over from the Cotton Bowl, the start of the second quarter.

Alabama was in the middle of a 16-play, 80-yard drive, keyed by runs of 15 and 30 yards by Williams. The drive stalled at the Ohio State 38 and the Crimson Tide was forced to punt.

The punt went into the end zone, but Ohio State, with the counting accuracy of a Pentium processor, had 12 men on the field. Alabama had fourth and one, gained two, and, four plays later, Tarrant Lynch scored from nine yards.

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Ohio State needed only the kickoff and one play to even the score when Bobby Hoying connected on a 69-yard pass play to Joey Galloway. The Buckeyes also scored--sort of--with the same combination on their next possession.

After blocking an Alabama punt, Ohio State took over on the Tide 22 and, five plays later, Hoying completed an 11-yard pass to Galloway in the end zone. Replays showed that Galloway was out of bounds when he caught the ball, but the officials--from the Pac-10--missed it and Ohio State led, 14-7.

Alabama then came back, thanks in large part to a 41-yard pass from Barker to Toderick Malone, and scored on a seven-yard run by Williams.

At that point, a tie wouldn’t have surprised anyone.

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Alabama squandered a great chance on the second play of the fourth quarter when Michael Proctor, who hasn’t missed a field goal inside the 29-yard line all season, did just that.

Ohio State got a 34-yard field goal from Josh Jackson about five minutes later, and Proctor atoned for his miss by making one from 27 yards with 4:29 to play.

But all that didn’t matter when Williams scored.

“This team has displayed the ability to come from behind,” Stallings said. “That’s a big advantage when you know your team is not going to get flustered when they fall behind.”

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It was the fifth time that Alabama had come from behind and won in its 12-1 season. The only game in which they couldn’t rally to win was against Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game, losing, 24-23.

Ohio State Coach John Cooper, whose team finished 9-4, was comfortable knowing he recently signed a five-year contract and was very complimentary.

“A good football team finds ways to win games and that’s what Alabama did late in the game,” Cooper said. “Williams was the best all-purpose back we’ve faced this season.”

Barker, fourth in this season’s Heisman Trophy balloting, finished with 18 completions in 37 attempts and the lone touchdown.

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“When your last pass of your college career is for a touchdown, it’s a great memory,” Barker said. “It’s both a happy and sad feeling that this was our last game. We’ve accomplished a lot here at Alabama. I knew we were going to come back in the game and I told Sherman on the sideline, ‘We’re gonna win.’ ”

He was right.

“We were fortunate enough to get the ball in my hands and then I did a few things,” Williams said. “Once I got away from the linebacker, it was all over.”

The play was not supposed to go to Williams.

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“We were not thinking about scoring on that play,” Stallings said. “Sherman was not necessarily the primary receiver, but he was the one that was open. We were really just looking for field position. What we needed to do was get in field-goal position.”

They did better than that.

The victory ends a rather trying season for the Crimson Tide, a season in which it had real national-title aspirations until the 12th-game loss to Florida.

“This was not a disappointing season,” Stallings said. “You’ve got to put a loss behind you just as you have to put a win behind you. I bet that I forget about this game a lot sooner than Coach Cooper does.”

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And both will forget about it long before Sherman Williams does.


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