- By Kirk Bohls American-Statesman Staff
The home team’s quarterback dipped and danced and kept Clemson’s vaunted defenders on their heels, and in the final minute was throwing a touchdown pass to his third option. In just his 10th start.
By the end of Saturday’s game, the Kyle Field home crowd was loudly chanting their head coach’s name as his team left the field.
What’s more, two highly touted recruits — four-star wide receiver Demond Demas and four-star quarterback Malik Hornsby — both gave commitments to the home team. Both had been either leaning Texas’ way or strongly considering the Longhorns.
And to think, Texas A&M lost. At least on the scoreboard.
But did it really?
That was hard to tell because the unranked Aggies (1-1) put up the fight of their lives, hung with the nation’s No. 2-ranked team that had won a national championship and has been in the College Football Playoff each of the last three years and gave every impression that it’s seriously legit. Can you imagine the repercussions if the Aggies had won?
Even in losing 28-26 when a two-point conversion failed, maybe A&M’s best loss since that Johnny Manziel-Mike Evans team fell to Alabama in 2013, the Aggies impressed. They came back from a 21-6 deficit, they survived despite giving up two passes of 64 yards each and another for 40, and they didn’t wilt after losing a controversial fumble by receiver Quartney Davis near the goal-line.
“We can’t whine,” head coach Jimbo Fisher said. “That’s ball.”
Which team was No. 2 in the country again?
For the record, it’s Clemson but there was precious little separating those highly ranked Tigers and upstart A&M on a humid evening at Kyle Field. About the length of a pylon perhaps.
But for a missed chip-shot field goal, a blocked field goal, a questionable fumble at the goal-line that may or may not have crossed over the pylon and another bizarre fumble by the backup quarterback when the starter cramped up and left the game for just one play, it would have been the Aggies who would have been victorious in this September non-conference thriller.
A&M didn’t win the game, but it won so much street cred by pressing the Tigers to the limit and coming within a two-point conversion in the final minute of forcing overtime that you’ll forgive the Aggies for sticking out their chests a bit, even in defeat. It wasn’t until Clemson’s Mark Field intercepted a pass in the end zone on A&M’s try for a game-tying two points that this game was decided.
“That’s not a moral victory,” Fisher said. “There were still mistakes we made, but we’ll coach ‘em a little better. One day doesn’t answer questions. You have to do it over a long period of time. You’ve got to do it on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and then Saturday, and then do it again the next week and then the next week and make it a culture.”
But the Aggies found themselves a quarterback in electric sophomore Kellen Mond, who played like the best quarterback on the field. He was elusive and mobile and calm, and Fisher credited him with making downfield progressions and throwing to his second, third and even fourth reads. The 24-yard scoring strike to budding receiver star Kendrick Rogers at the end was his third option.
They found receivers like the lanky 6-5 Rogers, a three-star recruit out of Frankston who picked A&M over invites from teams like Louisiana Tech, Cincinnati, Memphis and Houston, and the 6-2 Davis, a four-star signee out of Langham Creek who was courted by Oklahoma, LSU and Michigan State. The two combined for three touchdowns, and Rogers finished with seven catches for 120 yards and two scores. There’s not a single junior or senior receiver on the A&M roster, boding well for the future.
They found themselves a bona fide coach; their $75 million-dollar man coached his pants off and nearly interrupted Clemson’s run to yet another CFP appearance. But Fisher wasn’t perfect. He used up his three first-half timeouts in the first 14 minutes and should have called a timeout in the third quarter when Mond went out with cramps in both calves and backup Nick Starkel fumbled away a golden opportunity on the next play.
However, his team played with confidence, they lined up in more formations than a battalion — everything from the Pistol to the I to split backs and empty sets and even had Mond line up under center — and his team played almost as fast as he talks and the Aggies showed grit and determination like few others in recent memory.
Even better, they found hope for the future.
“I think we gained a lot of respect,” A&M linebacker Tyrel Dodson said.
“It shows that we’re a force to be reckoned with,” Aggies center Erik McCoy said.
Clemson’s No. 2. But by some measuring sticks, A&M might should be No. 3, at least in theory. At worst, the Aggies might be the best 1-1 team in college football and deserve respect in the polls.
Fisher knows there’s plenty of work to be done, but this is a program on the rise.
As for the crowd chanting “Jim-bo, Jim-bo” after the game, he said, “I’d rather them be chanting my name after a win. I love the passion of the people here, but I’ve got to do a better job.”