A sudden and unexpected illness nearly cut off Alabama’s momentum. The Crimson Tide were leading by 14 when Mark Ingram scored his third touchdown and toed the game into the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
But suddenly Alabama’s running back was not getting enough oxygen, and John Parker Wilson, the quarterback, grew tired. When the game-winning drive did not include him, people thought something must be wrong with the offensive game plan.
At those moments, Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide’s coach, was glaring at the three athletic trainers who were trying to help Ingram, and wondering how to salvage what was probably the biggest win of his 25 years in the college football world.
It was 23-10 with just over nine minutes left and the Tide up by seven points. Alabama needed all the points it could get and needed Ingram to score quickly.
And so it happened. The offense entered the red zone with two minutes to go. And after a pass was broken up on first down, Ingram made a block at midfield that effectively nullified another time out, and engineered a 47-yard touchdown drive.
When he scored the touchdown, Ingram leapt over a tackle, finally finding himself near the end zone, then planting himself on his own feet while appearing to inhale air as he shot through the pylon. The celebration was still underway after he landed.
The Alabama sideline and the 111,000-plus who had turned up to see the game erupted. There was more than a faint whiff of another national championship on the breeze as the celebration began. When Nick Saban appeared on the field afterward, his face was bloodied and he looked as if his last time out would be his last.
It was a game that summed up the moment Alabama has reached, to an extent. It is now looking, and feeling, like a postseason game all over again. It will have another chance to win its division on the road next week, and at least one more opportunity to pull away from its SEC West division rivals.
But for all the reasons that have separated Alabama from the rest of the SEC, most importantly last year’s run to the national championship, it is also providing the early fireworks of a new division battle in 2019.
For all the pounding Alabama is taking from its rivals and all the blowouts it has suffered against them this season, the Crimson Tide has at least some measure of still being able to win and move on.
And that one big run against a sluggish Texas A&M secondary was an omen that can, in time, turn out to be just as big.