September 3, 2011 11:27:00 PM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Kent State players received a warm welcome from University of Alabama fans after helping Tuscaloosa rebuild from the April tornado that devastated much of this college town, and they appreciated it.
Once the game started, the Crimson Tide weren''t nearly as welcoming.
AJ McCarron stepped up in Alabama''s quarterback race Saturday, throwing for a touchdown and 226 yards as the No. 2 Crimson Tide beat an overmatched Kent State 48-7 in its first game since the twister that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 50 people within a few miles of campus four months ago.
While the outcome was never in doubt, Kent State players said they weren''t intimidated playing in a huge Southern football cathedral. Instead, they came away talking about the kindness of the fans and Alabaama players, some of whom joined them at a job site during their trip in July.
"After the game I met those guys and we chatted with them," said Jacquise Terry, who led Kent State rushers with 23 yards on 10 carries. "They told us how they appreciated us coming down to help and thanks us for everything."
Quarterback Spencer Keith said players heard the cheers from Alabama fans as they entered the field.
"That was real classy," said Keith, who completed 20 of 47 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
Vying with Phillip Sims to replace Greg McElroy, McCarron had a 24-yard scoring toss to Marquis Maze and finished 14-of-23 passing.
McCarron was hardly perfect, throwing two interceptions. Sims also threw two interceptions -- one that set up Kent State''s score -- and finished 7 of 14 for 73 yards.
Starting in place of departed Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Richardson ran for 37 yards and three short touchdowns on 13 carries.
The raucous, 101,821-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium fell still during a moment of silence to remember tornado victims, and the band performed a tribute at halftime. Fans in the uppermost seats could see twisted trees and mangled homes along the trail of destruction in the distance.
Several Kent State players visited Tuscaloosa in July to help with tornado relief, and Crimson Tide fans applauded as the Golden Flashes jogged on to the field before kickoff. Alabama fans had sent messages on social media sites all week urging the Bryant-Denny crowd to welcome the visitors nicely rather than booing.
"We felt a lot of love coming back," Terry said.
There''s wasn''t much love from Alabama''s defense.
Led by Trey Depriest''s 10 tackles, Alabama held the Golden Flashes to 90 yards total offense and minus-9 rushing.
The Golden Flashes'' lone touchdown was set up by Norman Wolfe''s interception of Sims. He returned the ball to the Alabama 3. Keith found Justin Thompson alone in the end zone two plays later.
Other than that, offensive highlights were few for Kent State.
Alabama led 21-0 on McCarron''s scoring pass to Maze and Richardson''s touchdown runs of 1 and 9 yards before Kent State earned its initial first down midway through the second quarter. The overpowered Flashes finished with only six first downs, compared to 24 for Alabama.
Richardson added another touchdown on a 1-yard run, and 246-pound Jalston Fowler ran 49 yards for a score and led Tide rushers with 69 yards on four carries. Eddie Lacy had eight rushes for 69 yards and a 1-yard touchdown.
Playing both receiver and returning punts, Maze accounted for 214 yards -- 96 on returns and another 118 on eight catches.
Kent State hasn''t beaten a Southeastern Conference team in 10 tries. The Flashes last played an SEC team in 2007, losing 56-20 at Kentucky.
1. West Point's Edwards, Knight will go to EMCC HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Cold start dooms New Hope girls against Ridgeland HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. MSU women keep climbing higher, higher LOCAL COLUMNS
4. NHHS junior high softball program will play first games Thursday HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Starkville Academy boys beat St. Joseph in playoff opener HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS