Auburn holds off Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies, 45-41


©Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports


This one went according to script — last season’s script. The 2013 season has been an instant replay of 2012 and the cruel joke is squarely on the Ags.

Here’s how it worked: The Aggies lost their first SEC game of the season at home after leading by double-digits, won the others, and then went on the road for two hard-fought triumphs in hostile territory.

When they returned home to a hero’s welcome, there was another SEC foe coming to visit. All eyes turned toward College Station. In this game, A&M once more took a double-digit lead but failed to hold it, and eventually lost a second SEC heartbreaker. Their record fell to 5-2 and 2-2 in conference play, with both losses coming at home.

So, is it 2012 or 2013? Take your pick.

Combined, there have been four SEC home losses — Florida, LSU, Alabama and Auburn. To make matters worse, the Aggies held double-digit leads in every single one of them.

Last season, instead of Auburn, it was the LSU Tigers who came to town in the eighth week as a 3-point favorite and ripped out the hearts of a packed stadium and its players.

Today it was the Auburn Tigers, a 63-21 victim of the Aggies in 2012 by the way, who trailed 34-24 just moments into the fourth quarter. It easily could have been 38-24, but Johnny Manziel was injured on an 8-yard scamper to the two-yard line on second and goal. Matt Joeckel replaced Manziel and threw an incompletion on third down, forcing the Aggies to kick a gimme field goal. It proved to be the difference in the game.

The Auburn offense seemed rejuvenated by their defense’s heroics and decided to repay their counterparts with some excellent play of their own. Using six carries and a 32-yard pass play, the Tigers cruised 75 yards to pull within three points with 11:44 to play.

After three plays and a punt by the Manziel-less Aggies, the Tigers drove effortlessly on the following possession for their go-ahead touchdown. This drive consisted of 5 straight carries for 69 yards and gave the Tigers a 38-34 lead at the 9:06 mark.

With Manziel shaking off the ill effects of his shoulder pain and hitting all seven of his passes, the Aggies rolled for a 75-yard drive of their own, capping it off with a quick 1-yard sprint by the quarterback himself. The Aggies now led 41-38 and everyone in the stadium breathed easier. Once again under physical duress, Manziel and the Aggie offense had worked their dazzling magic, unfazed.

Surely Auburn couldn’t go the distance three times in a row in our house, right?

With only 5:05 left, all the Aggies needed was one fourth quarter defensive stop — but Auburn was already honed in and getting it done on the ground. They wouldn’t change anything in their third possession of the fourth quarter, nor would they need to.

You don’t mess with a beautiful plan that’s being wonderfully executed. Implementing ten carries and a pass completion, the Tigers traveled 75 yards to again take the lead, leaving only 1:19 on the clock in the process. They’d racked up 219 yards in the fourth quarter, with 160 of them coming on the ground. They’d exposed the Aggie defense just like their in-state rivals from Tuscaloosa had five weeks earlier.

Johnny Manziel has engineered two last-minute comebacks in his career and both have come in Oxford, Mississippi. All of the Aggies now hoped and prayed this would be the day he would get his first one at home.  

A nice runback by Trey Williams on the ensuing kickoff set up the Aggies at their 35 yard-line. Two passes to Mike Evans for 41 yards sandwiched a 6-yard burst by Manziel and the Aggies were suddenly poised for victory at the Auburn 18. Forty-three seconds remained in the game.

The Aggies, with a fresh set of downs and two timeouts remaining, knew the clock was no longer a factor. This one, like at Ole Miss, was surely going to belong to Texas A&M.

Auburn burned a timeout to prepare for a final Red Zone stand against one of the very best Red Zone offenses in the country. Manziel lofted one in the end zone and it was batted around by Evans as he fell, but he couldn’t quite grasp it. Many in the crowd wondered if the old Kyle Field bugaboo had just broken up the last chance the Aggies would have. They would be correct. In fact, it was the very last pass of the game.

On the next play Manziel was sacked for a loss of eight yards and A&M called time out. On the following play, Manziel scrambled for five yards and was tackled by a technique commonly called an illegal horse-collar. There was no call forthcoming. On fourth and 13, Manziel was heavily rushed and was unable to run or throw, and once again the Tigers corralled him for a 22-yard loss. Ball game.

The huge A&M crowd couldn’t believe their own eyes. The Tigers had actually held the vaunted A&M offense when all the chips were down. It was truly an amazing feat.

Somewhere, Bo Jackson smiled. Twenty-eight years later he finally received a measure of revenge.

With eleven seconds left on the clock, the talented Auburn quarterback kneeled with the ball for a very improbable victory. Not only had they won on the scoreboard, but they’d even out-gained the Aggies, 615 yards to 602. They had earned their victory.

Defensively, was it the worst fourth quarter in Texas A&M’s history? We’ll let the statisticians hash this one out for us. It quite possibly may be the worst quarter an Aggie defense has ever played, period.

For Texas A&M fans in attendance, watching on TV or listening on their radios, it wasn’t anything they hadn’t seen before. The Aggies are undefeated in the SEC on the road but have lost four of six at home in agonizing fashion. Since the 2000 season, the stadium our 12th Man calls home has yielded a 28-27 conference record.

This was also the fourth time since 2000 Texas A&M has lost at home to a double-digit underdog. The others were Missouri in 2011, Arkansas State in 2008 and Iowa State in 2005.

Some things just seem to take more time to get turned around — particularly when you’re stuck in reverse in your own back yard.