With a 41-13 win over the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl, the Texas A&M Aggies officially closed out the 2012-2013 football season with an 11-2 record. It was a breakthrough season for the Aggies, who won 11 games for the first time since 1998.
Their two losses came against Top 10 opponents, and those opponents shaved past the Ags by a combined eight points. And really, that's all that separated Texas A&M from a national title game against Notre Dame: eight points. The Aggies finished fifth in both the AP Top 25 Poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll, their highest final rank since 1956.
Considering the Farmers started the season as underdogs in a new conference, with new coaches fielding condescending questions about their ability to compete, the season became increasingly surreal as it progressed. What happened to the Aggies that blew huge leads in the second half? Where did Johnny Manziel come from? Since when do the Aggies wear white – or black – helmets? When did College Station even approach cool? A&M's statement-making win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa defined the season's dude-where's-my-hangover feel and made 2012 particularly memorable.
Even so, I'm not the kind of person who locks sports stats away in my mind; my brain is more fine sieve than steel trap. As much as I love football in the short term, even the big plays tend to filter out. So I've resolved to commit some of 2012's best moments to word-processing software for future reference (and present indulgence). The new year never gives us enough "Best of" lists, anyway. Here are my Top 5 Aggie football moments from the past season:
5) Dustin Harris led the NCAA in punt return yards in 2012 with 432 yards on 34 attempts. His longest return, a 96-yard dash to the end zone against South Carolina State proved his superiority as early as September.
4) In the first half of the 2012 season, when Johnny Manziel was still just another freshman quarterback trying to make it at the college level, Mike Evans proved to be Johnny Football's most reliable receiver. At 6-foot 5-inches Evans provided a big target, sure hands, and extra effort after every catch. In a rescheduled Louisiana Tech game that pitted A&M against one of the best offenses in the country, Evans' 75-yard touchdown catch put A&M up 27-7 in the second quarter. The Aggies ultimately won the slugfest by a slim 2 points, 59-57, and this big hook-up may have been the difference.
3) A week before the La Tech matchup, the Aggies fought through another close game. An Ole Miss team that had lost to 15 consecutive conference opponents gave Texas A&M everything they had at home in Oxford. The Aggies turned the ball over six times – six times – and with the Aggies up 30-27 near the end of the fourth quarter, Manziel was forced to watch from the sideline as Bo Wallace drove his team to the A&M 32, toward an almost certain tie and possible victory. But on first and 10, Toney Hurd Jr. intercepted Wallace and gave Manziel the ball with 1:06 to play. The pick sealed the slim victory and quieted doubts that A&M could finish close games.
2) Johnny Manziel's 2012 highlight reel rolls enough stunning footage to fill a much longer list, but I've decided to limit myself to one Johnny Football play, the most Johnny Football of all the Johnny Football plays 2012 offered. Of course, I had to choose that impossible sequence in Tuscaloosa:
In the first quarter against Alabama, Manziel took the ball on third and goal from the 10 and dashed to his right on a planned run. When the quarterback bumped right into guard Jake Matthews, the ball slipped out of his hands and floated into the air. Manziel caught the ball with his back to the end zone, turned back to the left side of the field, and off-balance, still fading backward, zipped a tight spiral to Ryan Swope, who waited alone in the end zone for the TD. Johnny Football!
1) My No. 1 play of the year goes to sophomore DB Deshazor Everett. In a season that gave Manziel and the Aggie offense overwhelming media attention, it is a defensive play that just might stick in my memory a while, whether I bother to record it or not. Despite Manziel's spectacular play against Alabama, the game came down to a fourth-quarter drive by then-Heisman-hopeful A.J. McCarron.
With the Aggies up 29-24, the Tide took the ball back at their own 40 with 4:27 to play. An immediate 54-yard pass to Kenny Bell took the Tide to the Aggie 6. All momentum swung to Alabama, and the game looked lost for A&M. But a goal-line stand by Sean Porter, Kirby Ennis, and Dustin Harris made it fourth and goal from the Aggie 2. When McCarron dropped back to pass on fourth down, Everett intercepted at the goal line, handing the game back to the Aggies – and the Heisman Trophy to Johnny Manziel.
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