Crimson Tide outlasts pesky Middle Tenn.

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 1, 2002

BIRMINGHAM (AP) &045;&045; Alabama was thinking blowout, but Middle Tennessee had other ideas.

Tyler Watts passed for 236 yards and two touchdowns and Freddie Roach returned a late interception for a score as Alabama built a big lead and held on to beat the Blue Raiders 39-34 Saturday in the season opener for both teams.

The heavily favored Crimson Tide jumped out to a 22-0 lead with a nearly flawless first quarter. Middle Tennessee controlled much of the next 30 minutes, cutting Alabama’s lead to 29-27 on ReShard Lee’s 2-yard TD run with 9:04 left.

The Tide then marched 75 yards down the field, but settled for Michael Ziifle’s 28-yard field goal with 3:18 to play.

Lee returned the ensuing kick to the Middle Tennessee 38-yard line. Andrico Hines, a junior college transfer making his first start, underthrew David Youell in the flat on the next play. Roach stepped in front of him and raced untouched into the end zone.

Roach said he was looking for that play, and Hines got the same feeling.

Again, Lee put the Blue Raiders in position for a quick score, returning the ensuing kick 58 yards into Alabama territory. On the next play, he took a lateral from Hines and hit Wardell Alsup on a 37-yard pass, setting up Dwone Hicks’ 5-yard touchdown run with 2:21 left.

Alabama’s Ahmaad Galloway scooped the onside kick from the air at midfield. The Crimson Tide ran out the clock after Santonio Beard’s third-down run moved the chains. Galloway rushed 15 times for 77 yards and a 32-yard score.

In the end, the Blue Raiders lost for the 19th time in 20 games against Southeastern Conference teams.

Watts went 16-of-22, including a 35-yard touchdown to Sam Collins and a 15-yarder to David Cavan. He rushed 10 times for 54 yards and had a 17-yard scamper for a first down on the Tide’s final scoring drive.

Middle Tennessee cut it to 29-20 on the second play of the fourth, when Don Calloway barreled up the middle for a 4-yard TD. The Tide stuffed Hines on the two-point try.

Hicks, coming off two straight 1,000-yard seasons, didn’t touch the ball until the Blue Raiders’ third series and finished with 11 carries for 42 yards and two touchdowns. Lee picked up the slack with 56 yards on 11 rushes.

Alabama coach Dennis Franchione said he wasn’t surprised to find his team in a fight.