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High Tide at the Rose Bowl

Alabama won the Bowl Championship Series national title Thursday night, 37-21, using two jarring back blows to two Texas quarterbacks to turn the Rose Bowl into Crimson, clover and game over.

Two back shots is what it took, one at the beginning and one near the end.

Defensive end Marcell Dareus knocked Texas starter Colt McCoy out with a right shoulder injury on the Longhorns’ fifth play -- ripping the spark plug out of Texas’ engine.

“I really didn’t try to hit him that hard,” Dareus said. “I didn’t want to hurt him. It’s part of the game.”

Late in the game, linebacker Eryk Anders cracked backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert with 3:02 left to force a fumble and snuff the Longhorns’ last stand.

Texas was trailing only 24-21 when Anders blindsided Gilbert deep in his own territory to set up Mark Ingram’s game-clinching, one-yard touchdown run with 2:01 left.

Gilbert, a true freshman who had only thrown 26 passes all year, almost rescued his team from a 24-6 hole.

Alabama got what it earned, a perfect 14-0 season and its first national title since 1992.

Nick Saban, in this third season in Tuscaloosa, won his second national title this decade after leading Louisiana State to the BCS title in 2003. The Southeastern Conference has won four straight BCS titles with three teams.

“I’m really more happy for everybody else,” Saban said. “I’m happy for our fans, I’m happy for our players and all the people who worked to restore this.”

The bottom line from the bottom of the Rose Bowl, though, is we’ll never know what might have been.

You can cover your pregame bases, watch the marching bands step in near-perfect unison. Five hang gliders can swoop from the sky and land near midfield, with not one of them falling, and Josh Groban can sing a pitch-perfect national anthem.

The one thing you can’t factor into a huge game is an injury that changes everything.

“It certainly changed the game,” Saban said.

McCoy was in the opening minutes of his 53rd straight start and driving his team toward a possible early touchdown. He was running left along the line of scrimmage from the Alabama 11 when Dareus delivered his pop.

It didn’t seem like much of a hit, but McCoy immediately ran off the field dragging his right arm and Texas’ hopes.

“I would have died to have been out there playing,” McCoy said afterward. “Those are the guys I went to war with the last four years. To see them out there without me hurt.”

McCoy’s fragility had always been a concern -- he has had to work hard to put meat on his 210-pound frame, but he had been uncannily resilient -- until the biggest game of his life.

Gilbert completed 15 of 40 passes for 186 yards. He wrapped four interceptions around two second-half touchdowns passes to Jordan Shipley that got Texas back in the game the Longhorns trailed, 24-6, at halftime.

Gilbert, out of Austin, was the 2008 Gatorade and Parade player of the year in high school. He was expected to replace McCoy and become the next great Texas quarterback.

It was supposed to happen next spring.

“I can’t imagine what it might have been like for him to be thrown into the national title game,” Shipley said.

Gilbert inherited a promising drive that stalled out and led to Hunter Lawrence’s 18-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Texas then caught a break when Curtis Brown recovered the ensuing pooch kick at the Alabama 30.

But Texas could only squeeze another field goal out of that, and a 6-0 lead in the first quarter without McCoy probably was not going to hold up.

The Crimson Tide took a 7-6 lead when Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner, scored on a two-yard run on the second play of the second quarter.

Later in the quarter, Trent Richardson popped through the line of scrimmage and raced 49 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-6.

On Texas’ next possession, Gilbert was in intercepted. A punt on the Longhorns’ next possession led to Leigh Tiffin’s 26-yard field goal

Then, on a play Texas fans might regret for years, the Longhorns failed to accept a 17-6 halftime deficit and head to the locker room.

Instead, the Longhorns opted to try a shovel pass that bounced off D.J. Monroe’s hands and was intercepted by Dareus -- the same guy who knocked McCoy out of the game.

Dareus grabbed the ball and stiff-armed Gilbert on his way to a 28-yard touchdown run with only three seconds left in the half.

“I couldn’t wait until I got to the end zone,” Dareus said.

Texas Coach Mack Brown said he thought the shovel pass was worth the risk.

“We knew we were going to struggle with points,” Brown said, “and we felt like we had 15 seconds left, so we called the safest thing. We called a little shovel pass that I had never seen intercepted before.”

Alabama joyously accepted Texas’ gift and ran merrily into the end zone.

A little too merrily, it turns out.

“It was like we won the game at halftime,” Saban said.

The Crimson Tide came out flat and allowed Gilbert to hit Shipley on scoring passes of 44 and 28 yards.

Things got real interesting when Texas got the ball back, down by three, at its own seven, with 3:14 left.

Dareus, though, struck again.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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