TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Western Carolina coach Mark Speir left town unhappy with the final score but pleased with the way his outmanned team battled to the finish.
The Catamounts lost 49-0 to No. 4 Alabama on Saturday in the season finale after falling behind by six touchdowns in the first half against a Southeastern Conference team still in the hunt for a national title.
“We’re just proud of our players in the second half,” Speir said after wrapping up his first season. “When you’re getting into an ugly ballgame like that, our players didn’t quit playing; they kept fighting. At halftime we were going to play for 30 more minutes and see where our program is at, in an infant stage where we are trying to build our program.
“Our players played hard and kept fighting. I’m just proud of them now that our season is done.”
Alabama (10-1) rebounded from a loss to No. 9 Texas A&M by building a 42-0 halftime lead against the Catamounts (1-10), a Football Championship Subdivision team with two wins in as many seasons. It was the Tide’s third shutout this year.
“I was pleased with the way our guys competed in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We went out there and tried to play to a standard and executed fairly well. Western Carolina, those guys played hard and they were a little bit outmanned, and our guys played the way we want them to play.
“Everything is ahead of us as a team.”
The Tide’s AJ McCarron completed all six of his attempts for 133 yards and a school single-season record 21st touchdown before exiting midway through the second quarter. Eddie Lacy ran for 99 yards and three touchdowns. Neither played after halftime.
“It’s not about them, it’s about what you do, so we had to go out there and take care of business and not worry about everybody else,” McCarron said.
Cornerback Deion Belue returned a fumble 57 yards in the final seconds before halftime.
The 42 points were the most Alabama had scored in the first half since producing the same amount against Georgia State on Nov. 18, 2010.
Alabama outgained the Catamounts 463-163 in total yards and outrushed them 300-70. The Catamounts have lost all 14 meetings against SEC teams and haven’t beaten a Division I (FCS or FBS) opponent since topping The Citadel on Oct. 2, 2010.
“It was an extraordinary opportunity to come out here and play in such a great stadium, against such talented players,” Western Carolina linebacker Rock Williams said. “It’s the best team I’ve obviously ever played against in my life and it’s the best team I will ever play against. It’s a great opportunity to see what you have when you’re playing against the best.”
McCarron broke the single-season mark set by Greg McElroy in 2010. He hit Christion Jones on a 29-yard touchdown with 8:15 left in the second quarter to cap a 99-yard drive and then became a spectator.
Even Alabama’s mistakes turned into Tide points. Western Carolina fumbled it right back after Jones lost the ball on a punt return, and Belue scooped it up for another score with 14 seconds left before halftime.
Alabama also drew a roughing penalty on the punt, prompting Saban to make a furious leap into the air on the sideline even with the huge lead.
Western Carolina backup quarterback Eddie Sullivan set up the Catamounts’ best scoring chance before Alabama made a fourth-down stop from the 14 late in the third quarter.
“We should have gone for the field goal and got some points,” Speir said. “That’s stupid. That’s my fault.”
Sullivan rushed for 28 yards and was 4 of 12 for 63 yards after replacing freshman Troy Mitchell.