It seemed only fitting that the gods or goddesses of sport saw to it that the hottest drama of the football south reach the grandest stage of football spectacles.
Young Texas A&M and its beleaguered coach trotted onto the AT&T Stadium field to face Jerry Jones’ most special guests – Arkansas – in an SEC opener toting enough baggage to sink the Royal Caribbean fleet.
The dark side of Aggies fandom reared its ugly head in the form of the Colombian soccer community after blowing a big lead in Week 1. The most caustic of criticisms appeared in the mailbox of coach Kevin Sumlin.
And this past week, the former AD, Eric Hyman, who now resides in Fort Worth – the cynic might say in self-imposed exile from College Station – sat down for a tell-all over a cup of coffee.
On Saturday, the Aggies escaped with victory they had to have, beating the Razorbacks for a sixth consecutive year, perhaps because they have become accustomed to adversity. The Aggies fought back from a 14-point deficit and, unlike Week 1 against UCLA, finished the job.
They won 50-43 in overtime in a game that included six lead changes, some hard luck, and a gritty game-tying drive in the final minute that no doubt left some questioning Sumlin’s clock management.
Freshman QB Kellen Mond found Christian Kirk in the end zone in the first OT possession. On Arkansas’ ensuing possession, Armani Watts sealed victory by intercepting Austin Allen’s pass into the end zone on third-and-8.
The 12th man will undoubtedly make note that their Aggies should be 4-0, but the reality is A&M is now 3-1 and 1-0 in the new conference season.
The Aggies aren’t complaining, having hit a reset button.
“I’m proud of how these guys believe in each other,” Sumlin said. “And because of that, nothing else matters. Monday, we’ll come back. We’ll be really critical of ourselves, and then we’ll move on to our next opponent. It’s kind of a simplistic view, but I think it works for these guys. They’re highly motivated and have a lot of pride.”
Arkansas, its coach Bret Bielema also sitting on a hot griddle, fell to 1-2 on the season.
Clark had five catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns, and ran back a kickoff 100 yards. The return at the 5:10 mark of the fourth put A&M back up 40-36, the third of four fourth-quarter lead changes.
After David Williams’ 4-yard TD run gave Arkansas its final lead, A&M, behind Mond marched 40 yards in 11 plays, culminating in Daniel LaCamera’s 27-yard field goal with four seconds left.
Mond, who had 332 yards of offense and two TDs passing, completed a throw to Damion Ratley for seven yards on fourth-and-3. On second-and-7, Mond rushed for 10 yards to Arkansas’ 22 and took one of A&M’s two remaining timeouts with 55 seconds left.
Instead of taking shots into the end zone, Sumlin elected to run three times and kick the field goal, deciding not to put his freshman QB in a position to fail.
“Once we got to the 30-yard line, we felt good about our kicker,” Sumlin said. “If it goes into overtime, it goes into overtime. We just don’t want to lose our opportunity right here with a young guy. So we kind of took it out of his hands.”
It’s a decision he’ll likely hear about beyond the untamed frontier of social media.
It’ll be considerably better than the writing campaign a side judge faced after errantly calling Mond out of bounds at the Arkansas 10 on a play that could have ultimately cost A&M the game. Mond broke a tackle and scored on a play that was not reviewable.
The Aggies could only muster three points on the drive.
“I think [this win] says we can fight through adversity,” Watts said. “We’re down, but we’re not going to give up on the game. It’s a big win for us, the finishing aspect of it. We didn’t finish the first game obviously.”
ARK—Cornelius 6 pass from Allen (Limpert kick), 9:04
TXAM—Kirk 81 pass from Mond (LaCamera kick), 8:02
ARK—D.Williams 2 pass from Kelley (Limpert kick), 14:54
ARK—Hayden 6 run (Limpert kick), 10:21
TXAM—FG LaCamera 27, 8:03
TXAM—T.Williams 18 run (LaCamera kick), 1:57
TXAM—Ford 23 run (LaCamera kick), 8:48
ARK—D.Williams 1 run (Limpert kick), 1:53
TXAM—FG LaCamera 37, 11:40
TXAM—Ford 44 run (pass failed), 8:46
ARK—Nance 44 pass from Allen (Patton pass from Allen), 5:21
TXAM—Kirk 100 kickoff return (LaCamera kick), 5:10
ARK—D.Williams 4 run (Limpert kick), 3:39
TXAM—FG LaCamera 27, 8:03
TXAM—Kirk 10 pass from Mond (LaCamera kick), :00
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Arkansas, Hayden 13-77, D.Williams 11-68, J.Jones 2-50, Whaley 6-38, Kelley 4-21, Hammonds 1-8, Ke.Jackson 1-0, Allen 7-(minus 36). Texas A&M, Mond 10-109, Ford 14-102, T.Williams 17-72, Bussey 1-2.
PASSING—Arkansas, Kelley 1-2-0-2, Allen 12-25-1-229. Texas A&M, Mond 14-27-1-216.
RECEIVING—Arkansas, Nance 3-100, Cornelius 3-35, Cantrell 2-39, O’Grady 2-30, D.Williams 2-28, J.Jones 1-(minus 1). Texas A&M, Kirk 5-110, Ausbon 5-48, Ratley 2-57, R.Paul 1-3, T.Williams 1-(minus 2).
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.