Anthony Johnson returned an interception a school-record 100 yards for a touchdown and Mississippi State became bowl eligible Saturday for the first time since 2000 with a 17-12 upset of No. 21 Alabama.
It was the second straight win over his alma mater for Sylvester Croom, whose resurgent Bulldogs have won six games for the first time since 2000.
It also was the second straight win over a ranked opponent for Mississippi State (6-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference), which beat then-No. 14 Kentucky two weeks ago. The win gave the Bulldogs a 2-2 record during a streak of four consecutive games against ranked opponents.
The Crimson Tide (6-4, 4-3) has now lost two straight. The Bulldogs limited Alabama to four Leigh Tiffin field goals and extended their streak of holding the Tide offense out of the end zone to 12 quarters.
Titus Brown, a Tuscaloosa native, ended the game with a sack as Alabama edged into Mississippi State territory in the final seconds.
Mississippi State intercepted John Parker Wilson twice in the game and held him to 121 yards passing. Wilson rarely found receivers open and often had to throw the ball away under pressure in the second half.
The Bulldogs also were stiff against the run, allowing Alabama just 153 yards and holding starting tailback Terry Grant to 75.
The victory looked awfully similar to a 24-16 upset of the Tide in Tuscaloosa last year. In a game widely considered the beginning of the end of Mike Shula's coaching career at Alabama, Mississippi State used defense to take an early lead, then wore the Tide down with a power running game.
The games also featured goal-line stands by Mississippi State at the end of the first half that wrested momentum from Alabama.
Last year the Bulldogs built a 24-10 lead with the help of a 51-yard interception return for a score, then stuffed Alabama at the goal line to end the first half.
With first-and-goal from the 3 and 34 seconds left on Saturday, it appeared the Alabama offense would finally score a touchdown against Mississippi State. But the Bulldogs stuffed Grant twice and on third down, Wilson was hit as he threw and Johnson intercepted the pass.
He raced down the left sideline with just an offensive lineman to beat as a school-record crowd of 56,188 howled in delight. The return broke Jack Nix's 70-year-old mark of 97 yards and gave the Bulldogs a 10-9 halftime lead.
Mississippi State struck again on the first drive of the second half. Wilson threw deep into double coverage on third-and-8 and Derek Pegues intercepted the pass and returned it 40 yards to the Alabama 25. Anthony Dixon scored from 3 yards out five plays later to make it 17-9.
It was the seventh game of the season decided by a touchdown or less for Alabama, which lost 41-34 to No. 2 LSU last week.
Croom, who played for Alabama from 1972-74 and coached at the school from 1976-86 before moving on to the NFL, is now 2-2 against his old team. He played and coached for the Tide during its glory years, but was passed over for Alabama's head coaching job when Shula was given the job five years ago.
He was hired at Mississippi State the following year, but inherited a team run into the ground and on NCAA probation.
Last year's win at Alabama seemed to be the start of Mississippi State's turnaround and in Croom's fourth year the team could be headed to a bowl, though another win in games against Arkansas and Mississippi would help the Bulldogs' cause.