The top-ranked Crimson Tide held on for a 37-21 victory Thursday in the BCS title game — a win that figured to be much easier when Alabama knocked out Texas quarterback Colt McCoy early in the first quarter.

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PASADENA, Calif. — First, the Alabama defense knocked Colt McCoy out of the game. Later, it saved a national championship.

Hanging onto a precarious three-point lead and with momentum on the other side, linebacker Eryk Anders was determined not to let the BCS title 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 — a win that figured to be much easier when McCoy went out with a shoulder injury early in the first quarter.

“We said, ‘It’s on us, the defensive line,’ ” Alabama’s 350-pound All-American Terrence Cody said. “We had to make plays to finish it off. There was no doubt in our huddle. We knew what we can do.”

They did, and brought Alabama its first national title since 1992 under Bear Bryant’s protégé, Gene Stallings. This one gives Alabama eight since the polls began in the 1930s. Its seventh Associated Press championship should be a shoo-in when the votes are tabulated.

Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram finished with 116 yards rushing, two touchdowns and offensive MVP honors, and Trent Richardson had 109 yards and two scores as Alabama beat Texas for the first time in nine meetings between two of college football’s most successful teams.

Anders will go down with them in Crimson Tide lore, as will Marcell Dareus, who knocked McCoy — the winningest quarterback in college football history — down and out with an injury to his throwing shoulder on Texas’ fifth offensive play.

“I just heard a thump when I hit him,” Dareus said. “I did lay it down pretty hard. I didn’t try to, but it felt great.”

A bit later, Dareus picked off Gilbert’s shovel pass and returned it 28 yards for a TD and a 24-6 lead late in the second quarter.

But it wasn’t quite over.

“It was like we’d won the game at halftime,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “But you can’t accept being average. You’re playing a team in the national championship game that knows how to win.”

The second half turned out to be anything but a laugher with Gilbert in the game — a highly recruited freshman who was Texas’ “quarterback of the future” but had thrown just 26 college passes coming into this game.

He 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 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. The ball went flying and Courtney Upshaw recovered.

Three plays later, Ingram surged into the end zone from the 1 for a 10-point lead. A few minutes later, after Gilbert’s third interception of the night, Richardson scored his second touchdown to make it 37-21.

Seeking its second national title in five years, Texas (13-1) got to the game on the back of McCoy, its All-American quarterback, who often looked like a one-man show in leading the Longhorns to 13 straight wins.

After the injury, McCoy was asking to go back in to finish his last college game. But Texas coach Mack Brown decided to err on the side of caution, and McCoy spent the second half on the sideline, trying to encourage his teammates.

“I don’t have lots of pain, that was never the issue. My arm went numb,” McCoy said. “It feels like I slept on my arm, woke up and it’s dead. …

“I would have given anything to be out there because it would have been different.”

The Texas defense kept things close while Gilbert got his feet underneath him.

And boy did he.

He led Texas on a five-play, 59-yard drive to make it 24-13, then 60 yards for the second score, and suddenly, the Tide was falling apart, not rolling. The two-point conversion made it 24-21.

“It’s a hard learning curve but he learned fast,” Brown said. “At one point, I thought he was going to win the ballgame.”

The Tide, however, hung on and Saban became the first coach since the polls began in 1936 to win national titles with two schools. He won the 2003 BCS championship with Louisiana State.

No. 1 Alabama 37, No. 2 Texas 21

Texas 6 0 7 8 21
Alabama 0 24 0 13 37

First quarter

Tex — FG Lawrence 18, 9:11.

Tex — FG Lawrence 42, 8:04.

Second quarter

Ala — Ingram 2 run (Tiffin kick), 14:18.

Ala — Richardson 49 run (Tiffin kick), 7:59.

Ala — FG Tiffin 26, :29.

Ala — Dareus 28 interception return (Tiffin kick), :03.

Third quarter

Tex — Shipley 44 pass from Gilbert (Lawrence kick), 1:31.

Fourth quarter

Tex — Shipley 28 pass from Gilbert (Buckner pass from Gilbert), 6:15.

Ala — Ingram 1 run (Tiffin kick), 2:01.

AlA — Richardson 2 run (kick failed), :47.

A — 94,906.

Tex Ala
First downs 15 16
Rushes-yards 28-81 51-205
Passing 195 58
Comp-Att-Int 17-42-4 6-12-1
Return Yards 0 50
Punts-Avg. 8-42.9 7-37.3
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards 8-77 5-38
Time of Possession 26:21 33:39

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing — Texas, Newton 14-39, Monroe 3-33, Chiles 1-8, Whittaker 1-5, C.Johnson 3-2, McCoy 1-0, Gilbert 5-(- 6). Alabama, Ingram 22-116, Richardson 19-109, Upchurch 2-9, Team 1-(- 2), McElroy 7-(- 27).

Passing — Texas, Gilbert 15-40-4-186, McCoy 2-2-0-9. Alabama, McElroy 6-11-0-58, Fitzgerald 0-1-1-0.

Receiving — Texas, Shipley 10-122, Goodwin 3-70, Newton 2-2, M.Williams 1-4, Buckner 1-(- 3). Alabama, Richardson 2-19, Ingram 2-12, J.Jones 1-23, Maze 1-4.