PASADENA, Calif. — The sure thing was looking shaky for Alabama.
Hanging on to a precarious three-point lead and with momentum on the other side, linebacker Eryk Anders made sure the championship wouldn't slip away.
Anders forced a fumble on his blindside sack of Texas backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert with 3:02 left Thursday night to help the top-ranked Crimson Tide hold on for a 37-21 victory in the BCS title game — a win that figured to be much easier when Alabama knocked out Colt McCoy early in the first quarter.
With McCoy on the sideline nursing a shoulder injury, the Tide rolled to a 24-6 lead at halftime, the final touchdown coming when lineman Marcell Dareus picked off a shovel pass and returned it 28 yards for the score late in the second quarter.
The Tide players bounded off the field at halftime in complete control and in position to capture the school's first national title since 1992.
The Crimson Tide started the game with two special teams mistakes in its own territory, but without McCoy running its spread offense Texas could only turn those gaffes into two field goals and a 6-0 lead.
Gilbert replaced McCoy and was 1 for 10 for minus-4 yards with two interceptions in the half. In the third quarter, he went 6 for 18 for 100 yards.
The second half figured to be a laugher with Gilbert in the game — a freshman who was Texas' "quarterback of the future" but had thrown only 26 college passes.
The Longhorns gathered near their sideline before their second possession of the second half and McCoy moved into the middle. He went around the huddle, smacking his teammates shoulder pads and trying to encourage a comeback.
Gilbert threw two touchdown passes to All-American Jordan Shipley to trim the deficit to 24-21 with 6:15 left, and after an Alabama punt, he had the ball at the 7-yard line, 93 yards away from one of the most improbable comeback stories in the history of the game.
But after an Alabama holding penalty moved the ball to the 17, Gilbert dropped back to pass and got rocked by Anders, a senior who plays in the shadow of All-Americans Terrence Cody and Rolando McClain. The ball went flying and Courtney Upshaw recovered.
Three plays later, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram surged into the end zone from the 1 for the 10-point lead. A few minutes later, after Gilbert's third interception of the night, Trent Richardson scored his second touchdown to make it 37-21.
Then the party began. Glory came back to one of the country's most storied programs, the football factory that Bear Bryant built, courtesy of Nick Saban, who resurrected this team in the short span of three seasons.