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December 21, 2012TUSCALOOSA | When Jay Barker walked off the Scott Field turf in Starkville, Miss., he knew exactly what the University of Alabama football team had accomplished.
The No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide had beaten Mississippi State, 30-21, on Nov. 14, 1992, and earned a berth in the inaugural Southeastern Conference Championship Game, set for a few weeks later at Birmingham's Legion Field.
Alabama, which was celebrating the 100th anniversary of its football program, remained in the hunt for the national championship with a 10-0 record and a 7-0 Southeastern Conference mark. For Barker, a sophomore quarterback who won his 14th straight start, there was also a sense of relief. For the first and last time during the 1992 season, Alabama had trailed in the fourth quarter.
"We realized how quickly that game could have slipped out of our hands," said Barker, now a radio personality and insurance executive in Birmingham. "But we came back and made the plays - a big play on special teams. Willis Bevelle, who was a walk-on, recovered a fumble on a punt return. We were able to get the ball back and go down and score.
"A couple of big plays offensively and defensively allowed us to win that game. We realized the magnitude of it and how big it was. I think there was a feeling of relief that we were still in this thing. It was tough, but we realized we've still got a shot to do what we're supposed to do at Alabama, and that's win national championships."
Alabama trailed 21-20 after Mississippi State scored 18 points in the third quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs pressured Barker, who lost the ball. MSU appeared to recover a fumble in Alabama territory, but the play was ruled an incomplete pass. Barker was sacked for a loss of 15 yards on the next play, and Alabama had to punt.
Willis, who had served in the U.S. Navy, made the fumble recovery at the MSU 43-yard line.
The Crimson Tide drove inside the 10-yard line but settled for Michael Proctor's field goal and a 23-21 lead with 8:10 left.
Safety George Teague soon after intercepted a pass, and UA cashed in with Chris Anderson's 1-yard run with 5:13 left. Teague made his second interception to halt the Bulldogs' final drive. Barker was able to take a knee to run out the clock.
Barker and his teammates somehow managed to keep their poise while the MSU cowbells were ringing.
"I think we just always believed in each other," said Barker, who completed 13 of 27 passes for 198 yards. "We had to come from behind in other games in '91, and throughout that year in '92 there were always tough moments. I think we had a trust among each other. We just believed that we were going to get it done, and we were going to win.
"In '92, it was a hundred years of Alabama football history. What better way to celebrate it than to win the first SEC championship (game) and, hopefully, play for a national title? We were very blessed, not only to be able to play in both of those but actually win both of those. In the hundred years of Alabama football, it meant a lot, not only to us as players but to a lot of the former players and people who had been a part of that program for so many years."
Reach Andrew Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0223.