Alabama football: Nick Saban, seniors reflect on final home game

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As Nick Saban walked down the home end zone tunnel to begin the second half Saturday, surrounded by several veteran players as he’s done hundreds of times before, he overheard a select few come to a particularly striking realization.

“I know it’s something for them to know that … two or three of the guys were walking out the tunnel to go out for the second half and saying, ‘This is the last time I’m going to walk down this tunnel with you,’ and so,” Saban said before taking a few seconds to compose himself as he fully grasped the significance of the moment. “… I’m glad to see them do well. And they played well today.”

It was a rare sign of emotion from the usually stoic head coach, who has repeatedly said this year’s team holds a special place in his heart.

And while many of the headline-makers in Saturday’s 56-0 drubbing of Mercer were among Alabama’s talented underclassmen, several seniors also had their moments in the sun in what would be their home game.

For senior safety Hootie Jones, it was having his mother, Jessica Carr, there to watch him play for the first time. Carr is currently battling Stage 4 Lymphoma and had to wear a hospital mask Saturday due to a weakened immune system.

MORE: Auburn’s Johnson believes this year’s Iron Bowl should be ‘one for the ages’ 

“It was good to see my mother, this was the only game she got to come to this year, so I was happy to see her,” said Jones, whose second-quarter interception was the first of three turnovers by the Tide secondary.

“I was very thankful to (be able to) go out there and give her something to see (since) this was her first game — first and last home game. I just want to thank her for being here.”

A few of the seniors admittedly didn’t understand the significance of the day until they were summoned to go out onto the field during the pregame Senior Day ceremony.

“It really hit me when we had to go out there and introduce all the seniors, and I almost shed a tear,” said senior receiver Cam Sims, whose 8-yard touchdown reception put Alabama ahead 42-0 late in the third quarter. “But when I saw my momma, I knew I had to focus up and kind of help her calm down. And then once the game came, I had to hit that switch because we had to get that win.”

Cam Sims caught a touchdown in Alabama's senior day victory.

Adam Hagy | USA Today Sports Images

Cam Sims caught a touchdown in Alabama’s senior day victory.

Along with the pregame ceremony where 21 members of the senior class were honored their families, a few managed to make a significant impact on the game.

That included senior guard J.C. Hassenauer, who made his first career start in his 23rd game when he replaced junior left guard Ross Pierschbacher in the starting lineup. Hassenauer then slid over to serve as the second-team center once fellow-senior Bradley Bozeman was taken out midway through the second quarter.

WATCH: Top 10 teams thrive in Week 12