Sherman Williams could have sunk to the level of those around him, with all their fumbles, interceptions, blocked kicks, penalties and shanked field goals. Instead, he turned in one of Alabama's great bowl performances.
The senior tailback appeared to be everywhere in the Citrus Bowl: running 27 times for 166 yards, catching eight passes for 155 yards, returning two kicks for 38 yards.
And he saved his best for last, catching a short pass over the middle and turning it into a 50-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left to give the sixth-ranked Crimson Tide a 24-17 victory over 13th-ranked Ohio State today.
"I worked hard and did a lot of things over the summer to prepare myself for this moment right here," said Williams, who also scored on a seven-yard run late in the first quarter and totaled 359 yards. "All the dedication that I put into the season paid off for me."
Williams became the first player in the history of the Crimson Tide (12-1) to have more than 100 yards rushing and receiving in a bowl game, and also wound up as part of the winningest class in Alabama history. The seniors ended their careers with a 45-4-1 record and one national championship, bettering the 44-4 mark turned in by the 1977-80 Tide teams.
Ohio State (9-4) continued to flounder in the postseason under Coach John Cooper, who is 1-5 in bowls with the Buckeyes.
Except for Williams and Joey Galloway, who had eight catches for 146 yards and both Ohio State touchdowns, the game was a comedy of errors that dragged on for 3 hours 48 minutes.
"It was one of those games where the team that made the last mistake lost the game," said Ohio State quarterback Bobby Hoying, who threw 180 yards but was sacked five times.
There were two blocked punts and one blocked field goal. There were three turnovers within 14 seconds. Alabama's Michael Proctor missed a 25-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Ohio State gave the Tide one touchdown with two penalties on one drive, including too many men on the field. Even the referees bungled, failing to notice that Galloway was out of the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
"Maybe those are the type of things that happen when you haven't played in six weeks," said Cooper, whose team was outgained 521 yards to 276.
Besides Williams, the best performance was turned in by a brown dog that dodged about the field for five minutes in the first period.
"We had momentum and I wanted to get him off the field," said Stallings, who tried to sweet-talk the dog his way. "I wish I'd have had a net. I don't know what I would have done if I had caught him."
Josh Jackson put Ohio State ahead 17-14 on a 34-yard field goal with 8:41 left. But that was familiar territory for the Tide, which had been behind or tied in the second half in eight of its 12 games. Proctor, after hooking his short kick early in the fourth quarter, tied it up from 27 yards out. Ohio State couldn't move the ball and Alabama got it back at its 37 with 1:15 to go. Jay Barker, the Tide's all-time winningest quarterback, moved the ball to midfield with a 13-yard pass, then Williams caught that short pass.
CAPTION: After scoring the winning touchdown, Sherman Williams gets a tri- umphant ride from the field from Kareem McNeal, left, and Jon Stevenson.