Crazy crowd noise. A rare special teams break down. The first turnover in 11 months. None of it mattered Saturday night when Alabama needed one drive to dispense with pesky Texas A&M.
The Crimson Tide took over at their own 22 with 6 minutes, 49 seconds to go in the game. Bama owned a 24-12 advantage over the Aggies.
Ten plays later, after nearly five minutes had clicked off the clock, Alabama’s Andy Pappanastos kicked a 44-yard field goal to up his team’s margin to 27-12.
A&M quarterback Kellen Mond scored a one-yard touchdown with 17 seconds to play. But Minkah Fitzpatrick scooped up the Aggies’ onside kick and scooted 39 yards to seal the 27-19 victory.
Top-ranked Alabama moved on from Kyle Field with its sixth win of the year and third in SEC play.
Conversely, the Aggies’ suffered their first defeat since losing their season opener, 45-44 against UCLA. Before Saturday, A&M had won four straight, needing second-half rallies in each of them to secure the victory.
Oddsmakers had established the Crimson Tide as a 26.5-point favorite. So the fact A&M played them so close was a surprise.
But coach Kevin Sumlin had drilled it into his team not to accept a close game as a positive.
“There are no moral victories in this league,” Sumlin said. “When you play that hard, when you play that long, nobody is happy.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban also wasn’t pleased in his post-game comments, saying he’d been attempting to convince his players not to listen to the media heaping superlatives their way. In the lead up to the game, Saban had described the Aggies as the best team the Tide would face through the first six contests.
“You write about how good we are, all that stuff they hear on ESPN,” Saban said. “It’s like poison. It’s like taking poison, like rat poison. So I’m asking them, are you going to listen to me or are you going to listen to these guys (talk) about how good you are?”
A&M did play Alabama closer than any other team this season. Previously, the tightest Tide game had been the season opener when Alabama held off Florida State, 24-7. The Tide had won its first two SEC games over Vanderbilt and Mississippi by a margin of 125-3.
The Aggies must regroup for a road date at Florida, which lost 17-16 to LSU earlier Saturday.
Given the competition, there were positives for A&M throughout the game.
Mond, the true freshman, wasn’t phased by an intense Bama rush, especially in the second half. On fourth and goal from the 2 late in the third quarter, Mond spun away from two Tide defenders as he tried to find an open receiver. He connected with Christian Kirk in the far right corner of the end zone to trim the score to 24-10.
With 10:18 remaining, Cullen Gillaspia burst through the middle of the Alabama punt team and blocked the kick of JK Scott out of the end zone for a safety.
The A&M defense tagged Alabama for its first turnover since last November. Freshman defensive back Debione Renfro popped the ball loose from Robert Foster at the Alabama 36. The lost fumble, Alabama’s first in 37 quarters, came with 6:50 to go in the third quarter. It set up Mond’s touchdown heroics with Kirk.
The Aggie defense sacked Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts three times and held him to 123 yards passing. Hurts rushed 14 times for 56 yards. That was nearly 40 yards below his average.
Damien Harris led all rushers with 124 yards on 14 carries. But Harris rushed for only a net of five yards in the second half, Alabama, which had been averaging more than 300 yards rushing per game, gained 232 against the Aggies.
But the Alabama defense limited A&M to 338 total yards, with only 71 coming on the ground. Mond was sacked four times. He netted 29 rushing yards, 20 of them coming on one carry. The youngster threw an interception and lost a fumble, but Alabama didn’t convert them into points.
“It’s tough to know that if a couple more things would’ve went our way we would’ve had a closer shot to win the game,” Kirk said. “That’s how Alabama is. All the credit goes out to them. They’re the number one team in the country for a reason. They’re not going to give you anything. You have to go out there and beat them.”