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Tide forced to work for win

©Associated Press
September 1, 2002

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- 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.

"We jumped out on them early and really thought we were going to be able to close the deal there, but they kept fighting," Watts said. "They kept coming back."

The heavily favored Crimson Tide took 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 run with 9:04 left.

The Tide then drove 75 yards and Michael Ziifle made a 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.

"I was surprised it stuck to my hands," the redshirt freshman linebacker said. "I didn't even have time to think, really, but to get in the end zone."

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

"We've said all week they're a pretty good team," Franchione said. "They played like it today.

"I admire our kids. They hung in there. They found a way to win."

GEORGIA 31, CLEMSON 28: Backupquarterback D.J. Shockley ran for one touchdown and passed for another as the host Bulldogs rallied.

Billy Bennett kicked a 43-yard field goal with 5:19 remaining to snap a tie at 28 in the renewal of a longtime rivalry.

Georgia took advantage of miscues by Clemson's special teams.

Fred Gibson returned a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. Aaron Hunt missed two field goals, including a 46-yard attempt with 1:43 remaining that would have tied the game for the Tigers. A shanked punt and a long punt return set up two more Georgia touchdowns.

The two schools, only about an hour's drive apart, played for the first time since 1995.

Shockley, a redshirt freshman playing his first college game, threw a 24-yard touchdown to Terrence Edwards with 12:35 remaining to erase a 28-21 deficit.

Then, Damien Gary returned a punt 40 yards to set up Bennett's winning kick.

TENNESSEE 47, WYOMING 7: Casey Clausen threw for 238 yards and a touchdown, and Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis each ran for two TDs in Nashville, Tenn.

The game originally was scheduled to be played in Laramie, Wyo., but the Cowboys sold it for $2.35-million. The game was played three hours west of the Vols' campus in Knoxville.

Tennessee won its seventh consecutive opener and 16th non-conference game in a row thanks to a defense that lost three defensive linemen to the NFL last April. The Vols didn't miss a beat against a Wyoming offense that returned 10 starters from a unit that ranked 15th in the nation last season.

Wyoming quarterback Casey Bramlet was sacked twice. Tennessee outgained Wyoming 467-187.

Tennessee was without injured receiver Kelley Washington, the team's leading receiver last season, but Clausen played well anyway, going 22-for-33. He left with the Vols ahead 41-0.

OREGON 36, MISS. STATE 13: With former quarterback Joey Harring-ton looking on, Jason Fife opened a new era for the host Ducks by throwing three touchdowns.

Onterrio Smith ran for 124 yards on 28 carries for Oregon, and Fife completed 14 of 26 passes for 166 yards in his first game as a starter.

The Bulldogs were playing without starting quarterback, Kevin Fant, who was suspended for one game by the NCAA. In his place, redshirt freshman Kyle York made his collegiate debut.

S. CAROLINA 34, N. MEX. ST. 24: Coach Lou Holtz tied Bo Schembechler for ninth on the career list with his 234th win for the host Gamecocks.

South Carolina's largest season-opening crowd of 83,717 didn't see the thumping it expected. But the Gamecocks got 113 yards rushing and a 44-yard touchdown pass from new quarterback Corey Jenkins to win their third opener in a row.

Holtz caught his friend Schembechler, the former coach at Michigan. Ohio State's Woody Hayes is in eighth place with 238 wins.

Ahead 20-17 late in the third quarter, the Gamecocks got a 16-yard run from Jenkins and an 18-yard pass to Michael Ages on the next drive. Another 8-yard run by Jenkins took the ball to New Mexico State's 2, and freshman Daccus Turman followed with a touchdown.

MISSISSIPPI 31, LA.-MONROE 3: Robert Williams ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns, and the host Rebels won without a big game from quarterback Eli Manning.

Playing in front of a record-breaking crowd of 58,151 at expanded Vaught-Hemingway stadium, the Rebels won their seventh consecutive opener.

Manning started 0-for-5 with an interception, but finished 17-for-31 for 192 yards. He extended his school-record streak of games with a touchdown pass to 13 by connecting with Bill Flowers on a 26-yarder in the second quarter.

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