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Tide Does Its Part to Boost ECU's Bowl Chances

From AP Wire Reports with Staff Contributions

BIRMINGHAM, AL — As far as East Carolina fans are concerned, Alabama picked a good time to play its best football — and breathe some life into the Pirates' flickering bowl hopes.

Ahmaad Galloway ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns to lift the Crimson Tide to a 28-15 victory over Southern Mississippi on Thursday night in a rain-soaked game reminiscent of ECU's late-season win over the Golden Eagles a year ago in a Hattiesburg monsoon.

With its third straight win, Alabama (6-5) became eligible for a bowl game, likely the Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN.

``I felt all along this group could be hard to handle if they could get some good things to happen to them,'' said coach Dennis Franchione, who took over a team that won three games last season. ``If they could have gotten them early in the season, who knows what could have happened?''

Legion Field press box sources said last night the Golden Eagles (6-4) are expected to receive a bid to the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, writes WNCT-TV sports anchor and Bonesville columnist Brian Bailey.

But Bailey noted that a source in Mobile, the bowl's hometown, said he would not be incorrect in reporting that East Carolina would be extended the GMAC bid today.

Played in windy, rainy conditions, the game included six first-half turnovers, a safety, three botched extra-point kicks and three missed field goals.

As Franchione said, the conditions made the kicking game ``almost a comedy routine.''

It didn't dampen the Tide's enthusiasm.

``This was a great win for our team and this program,'' senior quarterback Andrew Zow said. ``We're headed in the right direction. Now we sit and wait for a bowl and hope things pan out for us.''

Both teams were playing without their starting tailbacks. It had little effect on Alabama, particularly in the second half.

Galloway scored on a 40-yard run in the third quarter and added a clinching 11-yarder with 10:33 left in the fourth.

He also held onto the ball, running 24 times without a fumble in his second straight 100-yard effort. Santonio Beard, who gained 199 yards in his lone start against Auburn, was suspended following his arrest last weekend on drunken driving charges.

``We didn't let it be (a distraction),'' Franchione said. ``We closed ranks and marched on.

``You're going to get a great effort from Ahmaad every game. He had to play more tonight, and he rose to the occasion for us.''

The Tide still rushed for 221 yards, including 148 in the second half against a defense that came in giving up just 86 per game on the ground.

Zow, making his second start of the season, threw his 34th and 35th touchdown passes to tie Mike Shula for the school's career mark.

Zow was just 7-of-19 for 90 yards with an interception, but rushed for a career-high 47 yards and converted a pair of third-and-long plays with his legs.

His Southern Miss counterpart, Jeff Kelly, was 23-of-36 for 239 yards and a pair of scoring passes to LeRoy Handy.

Kelly was sacked three times by Jarret Johnson, who also had nine unassisted tackles, one for a loss, and caused a fumble.

James Walley ran for just 65 yards on 22 carries and fumbled twice as the Golden Eagles were held to 47 yards on the ground. He was subbing for Dawayne Woods, out with a shoulder injury.

Southern Miss closes out the regular season at home against Texas Christian next week in another game which could ultimately affect ECU's bowl possibilities.

If the Golden Eagles do indeed get the nod from the GMAC Bowl, the Bowl may keep its open Conference USA slot available, pending the outcome of the USM-TCU contest.

In that scenario, a win by the Horned Frogs would likely result in a bid for the Ft. Worth, TX, school, which is within a few hours driving distance from the bowl's Houston home.

On the other hand, a Southern Miss victory over the Frogs may find bowl officials deciding between 6-5 East Carolina and 6-4 UAB, which winds up its regular season at Pittsburgh on Saturday, to fill the open spot.

Regardless, Southern Miss head coach Jeff Bower says his team will not be approaching the TCU game in anything less than a serious fashion.

``These guys made a commitment to finish out the season strong,'' he said. ``We are going to go back and get ready to win.''

Galloway capped the opening drive of the third quarter with his 40-yard touchdown run up the middle. The drive was kept alive by a roughing-the-kicker penalty.

The extra-point attempt was blocked and Rod Davis scampered 93 yards for two points to make it 13-8. It was the first time since 1997 that Alabama had a PAT blocked.

The Tide got the two points back after a snap sailed over punter Mark Haulman's head. He batted it out of the end zone for a safety, avoiding an almost sure touchdown.

Alabama followed that with Zow's 26-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Milons for a 22-8 lead. Zow kept the drive alive by running for a first down on third-and-18.

Then, Kelly capped a 12-play, 74-yard drive with his second scoring pass to Handy, who made a diving 5-yard catch on fourth down.

Galloway put the game away early in the fourth, and Southern Miss couldn't get any points from its next three series.

Points were scarce for both teams in the first half, with Alabama clinging to a 7-6 lead.

Zow was just 3-of-13 for 28 yards in the half compared to Kelly's 10-of-17 for 141 yards. Both threw an interception.

The game was postponed from Sept. 15 due to the terrorist attacks.

02/23/2007 10:47:42 AM

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