PASADENA, California (Reuters) - Alabama claimed a first U.S. college football title since 1992 when they defeated Texas 37-21 in the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl on Thursday.
Alabama wore the Longhorns down with a punishing running game led by Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram to take a 24-6 halftime lead over Texas, who lost All-American quarterback Colt McCoy on the team’s first possession with a shoulder injury.
The Crimson Tide played conservatively in the second half, the Texas defense stiffened and freshman quarterback Gary Gilbert began connecting with receiver Jordan Shipley as the Big 12 champions drew within 24-21 with 6:15 left in the game.
With three minutes remaining, Eryk Anders blitzed from the blindside and forced Gilbert to fumble deep in Texas territory and Alabama recovered at the three.
Ingram bulled his way into the endzone for his second touchdown of the game to give Alabama some breathing space at 31-21.
Alabama, who entered the game with an identical 13-0 record to Texas, capped a fine performance with another touchdown after picking off a Gilbert pass.
Ingram, who gained 116 yards on 22 carries and scored two touchdowns, was named offensive player of the game.
Giant lineman Marcell Dareus, who sent McCoy to the sidelines with a crunching hit and rambled 28 yards into the endzone after intercepting a botched shovel pass in the closing seconds of the first half, was honored on the defensive side.
Alabama coach Nick Saban became the first coach to win the BCS championship with two different teams, having won the crown with Louisiana State University (LSU) six years ago.
“We had to play for 60 minutes,” Saban told reporters.
“Championship teams are going to be able to come back and they did which speaks to the character of their team. They did a great job of coming back and I was proud of the way our guys bounced back in the fourth quarter.”
Texas coach Mack Brown said the Dareus interception return at the end of the first half was a crippling blow. “The last play of the first half was an absolute killer,” Brown said.
Despite that tack-on score, the Longhorns made a game of it in the second half.
“I told them I was really proud of them, I was proud of their fight and their toughness. We just had too many turnovers,” Brown added after failing in his bid to claim a second national championship in five years for the Longhorns.
Texas took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter, turning a pair of Alabama turnovers into field goals by Hunter Lawrence.
Alabama, which was burned by an intercepted pass on a fake punt, settled into running the football and with McCoy sidelined, took control of the game.
Ingram stormed across from two yards out to give the Crimson Tide a 7-6 lead. His freshman colleague Trent Richardson burst through the middle and sprinted untouched for a 49-yard touchdown that made it 14-6.
A field goal by Leigh Tiffin and the pick-six by Dareus padded the cushion at halftime.
Gilbert, who was 1-for-10 for negative four yards throwing the ball in the first half, played with more assurance in the second half and began connecting with Shipley on routes over the middle.
He tossed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Shipley to make it 24-13, then hit him with a 28-yard scoring strike and added a two-point conversion to move within a field goal at 24-21.
Shipley finished with 10 catches for 122 yards.
Richardson scored a late touchdown and ended the game with 109 yards rushing on 19 carries for Alabama.
Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by John O'Brien