Last-second field goal lifts Bama to Cotton Bowl win

DALLAS (AP) -- As soon as the ball left Jamie Christensen's foot, the only way to describe his 45-yard field-goal attempt was "ugly."

It was low, it was wobbly and it had a sideways spin that seemed certain to make the ball hook left even if it had enough oomph to reach the crossbar.

Then it twirled through the bottom left corner of the goal post, giving the 13th-ranked Crimson Tide a 13-10 victory over No. 18 Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl, ending a two-game losing streak and rewarding a senior class that's been through a lot with a finish they'll never forget.

Just that quickly, it became one of the most beautiful kicks in Alabama history.

"I hit the ground," Christensen said. "I'm glad it just had the distance and I got it there."

Christensen, a sophomore who'd won consecutive games in October in the closing seconds, joined Joe Montana as heroes of the most dramatic finishes in the 70-year history of the Cotton Bowl. While Montana overcame illness and bitter weather to lead Notre Dame past Houston 35-34 in 1979, Christensen battled back from missing a
39-yarder and having a 38-yard attempt blocked.

This one was the longest of his career and it fulfilled a promise to a teammate, made after his two goofs, that he would kick the winning field goal if Tech tied it. Getting into the same sentence with Montana makes it even better.

"That's awesome," Christensen said. "I'm still in a daze. It's unbelievable."

The entire stadium went silent when Christensen's kick went up -- well, about 15 feet up at its highest point. When the official closest to where the ball cleared threw up his arms, a teammate lifted Christensen into the air and a wild celebration began around

"I didn't know if it was going to be good," Christensen said. "I didn't know until I saw the referee's hands go up."

A bizarre scene followed: While everyone from the Crimson Tide side of the field danced, everyone on the Red Raiders' side was so stunned they weren't moving.

"It didn't look very good when it left his foot," Tech coach Mike Leach said. "I had high hopes for it not being good at that point. Did he make it?"

Red Raiders quarterback Cody Hodges called it "a 3-iron punch in the wind."

Alabama's speedy defense kept Tech's offensive machine without a touchdown for 57 minutes, 4 seconds. Then the Red Raiders (9-3) finally broke through, tying the game at 10 on a 12-yard pass to Jarrett Hicks. Hodges threw it, despite having missed the previous series what's believed to be a torn ligament in his right knee.

The Tide began their final drive at their 14, with two timeouts and 2:56 left.

Brodie Croyle drove them 58 yards in 10 plays, hitting Matt Miller for 17 yards on third-and-6 and Keith Brown on a 23-yarder to get into field-goal range.

"Coming into Alabama, that's what you dream of: Your last game, in the Cotton Bowl, you got two minutes to go score," Croyle said.

Although Christensen was having a bad game, coach Mike Shula trusted him because he kicked a 31-yarder with no time left to beat Mississippi 13-10 and then a week later made a 34-yarder with 13 seconds for a 6-3 win over Tennessee.

No one else had ever kicked consecutive game-winners in Alabama history. Now he's the first person to win a bowl game for the Tide on a game-ending field goal -- and that's saying something considering this was 'Bama's 53rd bowl game and its 30th victory, both NCAA records.

The win gave the Tide double-digit victories for the 28th time, extending yet another record. That's especially meaningful for Croyle, star linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the rest of a senior class that broke in under Dennis Franchione and went through the Mike
Price mess.

The win should also make for a more comfortable offseason because Alabama ended a losing skid that began when it was 9-0 and ranked No. 4.

"It's all about what you do for me lately," senior safety Roman Harper said. "We didn't want to go out and have a sour taste in our mouth."

Croyle, the leading passer in Tide history, was 19-of-31 for 275 yards and, most importantly, helped Alabama keep the ball for 38:58, keeping his defense fresh and the Tech offense on the sideline.

Croyle's first pass was a screen to receiver Keith Brown. Freed by a block from tackle Chris Capps, Brown took it 76 yards for a touchdown and the Tide's second-longest play of the season. Croyle celebrated by running to midfield with his arms extended like an airplane, twirling in circles.

He opened the second half by leading a 17-play drive that took 8:07, ending with a 31-yarder by Christensen.

Christensen's first miss was from 39 yards in the second quarter, with Alabama up 7-3. His next try was blocked.

A big return and penalty left Tech in position to go ahead 10-7 at halftime. But the Red Raiders blew it with poor clock management and then had a 38-yard field goal blocked.

"It was a tightly contested game by two really good teams," Leach said. "But I guess I felt like they outplayed us on all three sides of the ball by a narrow margin."