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From the Press Box: Three quarters would have been perfect

 

Slim Smith

 

 

If this were hockey, Davis Wade Stadium would probably still be filled with screaming Bulldog fans as you are having your morning coffee today. Instead, the No. 18 Bulldogs are metaphorically licking their wounds after a 31-24 loss to top-ranked Alabama on Saturday night. 

 

But let's pause to consider the virtues of hockey for a moment before we return to the scene of the crime. Hockey is a three-period game, and no one has complained about that format. It works. Ask a hockey player. He'll tell ya. 

 

Well, through three periods Saturday night, MSU was taking it to No. 1 Alabama. 

 

At the quarter's end, MSU led 21-17 and was at the doorstep for another score. 

 

As is custom, the end of the third quarter signaled the 61,344 fans to turn on their cellphone flashlights and to sing with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," which blared through the stadium's massive sound system. 

 

The Bulldogs were believing, in earnest. 

 

After nine-straight losses in the series in the Battle for Highway 82, most of them by humiliating nature, the Bulldogs seemed poised, confident and in control. The Crimson Tide seemed sort of stunned by it all, having rarely been treated so unkindly, especially this season when their average margin of victory in a 9-0 start was 31 points. 

 

Alabama hadn't even trailed in a game since its season opener Sept. 2. 

 

It trailed three times against MSU. 

 

If it's a three-period game, MSU is ordering bronze and trying to find a good spot for Dan Mullen's statue. 

 

But someone in the distant past arbitrarily decided football should be a four-period affair. For all we know, he could have suggested the game have eight or 12 or 37 periods and we'd still be here Tuesday. 

 

Yeah, for three wonderful periods, the world was in harmony, the stars aligned perfectly, the gods in their heaven. 

 

There the Bulldogs were, cruising toward what would have been a signature victory for a season suddenly turned magical. 

 

Then the fourth quarter happened. 

 

Hockey sticks. 

 

Leading by four points to open the fourth quarter, MSU had to settle for a 25-yard field goal that kept Alabama within a touchdown. 

 

With 4 minutes, 15 seconds left, Alabama tied the game on a 14-yard run by Damian Harris. 

 

MSU's offense could do nothing with the ball, punted, and Alabama drove smartly down the field to set up a 41-yard field goal that clanged off the left upright, preserving the tie and keepin' the Bulldogs believing. But the Bulldogs couldn't move the ball, punted, and Alabama took over 68 yards away from the end zone with 1:09 left. 

 

So it looked like overtime for sure, right? 

 

Nah. Alabama needed only 44 seconds and six plays for the game-winner, a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jalen Hurts to DeVonta Smith with 25 seconds left. 

 

MSU managed to get close enough for a couple of heaves into the end zone, but when Nick Fitzgerald's final pass flew well beyond the back of the end zone, a hush fell over the crowd. 

 

Bummer. 

 

"It's frustrating," said MSU coach Dan Mullen, who is 0-9 against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. "We played our tails off. We just didn't get enough points there at the end." 

 

The Tide, of course, had something to do with that. 

 

After being out-gained, outhit and out-hustled for three periods -- which, by the way is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for a game -- the Tide pretty much made mush of the Dogs in that excessive extra period. MSU, which had rolled up 296 through those perfectly reasonable three periods, managed 34 yards in the final godforsaken 15 minutes. Alabama, meanwhile, rolled up 194 of its 444 yards in that span. 

 

You could read the frustration on Mullen's face as he conducted his "let's get this over with" post-game news conference. 

 

"Our guys played hard for 60 minutes," he said. "(Alabama) is the No. 1 team in the country for a reason, you know." 

 

Yeah, We know. 

 

H.E. double hockey sticks, as the saying goes.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

 

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