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Alabama 30, Mississippi St. 14

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- Sylvester Croom was pacing the sideline
at Alabama almost like he always dreamed, but he couldn't help his
team tackle Ken Darby or score against the nation's top defense.

Darby ran for a career-high 200 yards on 36 carries to lead
Alabama to a 30-14 win over Mississippi State on Saturday night,
spoiling Croom's return to the school where he played for Bear
Bryant and was an assistant coach.

"To me, it meant the culmination of a lifetime dream," said
Croom, who grew up in Tuscaloosa. "I stood on the same sidelines
as Coach Bryant although it was the other side of the field. I'll
take it any way I can get it."

Round 1 to Mike Shula, who beat out Croom for their mutual dream
job in May 2003.

The Crimson Tide (6-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) became bowl
eligible for the first time in three years, showing pluck and even
dousing Shula with a celebratory shower.

"Coming into the game, everybody was talking about how they
wanted to win for Coach Croom," Alabama safety Roman Harper said.
"We wanted to show everybody how we felt about our coach, too.
We're happy that he's here for us, and we showed some fight for him
too."

Croom's Bulldogs (3-6, 2-4), 17-point underdogs, were still
flirting with a third straight win midway through the fourth
quarter. Instead, they wound up losing their 13th straight SEC West
game and 14th division game in a row on the road, unable to
overcome mistakes or the nation's top defense.

"I believe (Croom) wanted to show Alabama and the media people
that this could be a great contest," said Bulldog receiver Tee
Milons, whose older brother Freddie starred at Alabama. "He said
this game is not personal. It's not about him getting a job or not
getting a job. He said it's 11 men against 11 men between line and
who wants it most."

Added Croom, "As far as my personal feelings, the big thing I
had to do was make sure my kids didn't get caught up in the
emotions of my return."

Alabama took a 23-14 lead on Brian Bostick's 47-yard field goal
with 7:19 to play, his third of the game.

"That was the play of the game," Shula said.

Tyrone Prothro set up the score with a 19-yard punt return to
the Bulldogs 36.

One play after the score, Mark Anderson stripped the ball from
Fred Reid and Wallace Gilberry recovered at the Mississippi State
9.

Three plays later, Spencer Pennington faked a handoff to Darby
and hit fullback Le'Ron McClain for a 4-yard touchdown.

Croom drew little reaction from the crowd upon running out of
the visitors tunnel before the game, clad in maroon and white
instead of the crimson and white he wore as a star player and
assistant coach for the Tide. He showed little emotion during the
game, standing motionless, hands on hips, as Mississippi State's
last desperation pass fell incomplete.

After it was all over, he ambled slowly across the field and
spoke briefly with Shula before walking back to the locker room.
They also visited before the game.

"When you compete against guys like that that you've got
respect for, you always want you and your team to be at their
best," Shula said.

Too much Darby and too little offense kept Croom from a
triumphant return, though he spent the week downplaying the
personal story line anyway.

Darby had 20 carries for 150 yards before halftime and the
league's top running team pounded away for 260 yards on the ground
in a battle of mostly one-dimensional offenses.

"I refused to be denied some yards," Darby said. "I told my
offensive line that I was going to run hard and try my best to help
us win this game. I think I did all right."

Mississippi State had a chance to take the lead late in the
third quarter, recovering a botched punt return at Alabama's 41.
Three plays and a penalty pushed the Bulldogs back to midfield.

The Tide drove to the Mississippi State 38 after a 14-yard punt,
but Spencer Pennington's third-down pass was picked off by David
Heard at the 2. The Bulldogs couldn't move the ball, giving it back
to Alabama to set up Bostick's kick.

Mississippi State got Croom's homecoming off to a nice start
with Jerious Norwood's 50-yard touchdown scamper on the opening
drive. Norwood had 96 yards, but gained only 16 on seven
second-half carries.

The Tide started to roll in the second quarter, scoring 17
points.

"We've got a lot of growing up to do," Croom said. "We're
making progress but we've got a long way to go."