Dec. 28, 2013
Tre Mason rushed for 178 yards and scored the winning touchdown against Texas A&M (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – In the Texas town of College Station, in the sound and fury of Kyle Field, Auburn made a statement to the college football world. The Tigers of 2013 and Gus Malzahn, their first-year head coach, were no shooting star. They were back on college football’s big stage and intended to stay there.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the man they call Johnny Football, didn’t let it happen easily. He was at his inimitable best, running and throwing and doing all the things that made him the Heisman Trophy winner as a true freshman. Super receiver Mike Evans caught pass after pass.
But not even Johnny Football and his helpers could keep Auburn from its date with destiny.
Texas A&M had 602 yards total offense, but Auburn trumped that with 615 yards. Auburn rushed for a gaudy 379 yards, and in the end, that was too much for the Aggies.
A 5-yard Tre Mason run with 1:19 left gave Auburn the lead, and defensive end Dee Ford sacked Manziel twice in the final three plays and celebrated a 45-41 victory over the No. 7 Aggies. Auburn’s climb up college football’s tallest mountain had begun in earnest.
“Our team is going back to the top,” Marshall said when it was over. “We are just now getting our edge back. On the last drive we went out there and executed. We knew we were going to be the more conditioned team in the second half, and it showed. This win is about confidence. We're going to take one game at a time and keep moving forward."
Wide receiver Sammie Coates said it happened just like Malzahn told them it would.
“Coach told us we were going to win the game in the second half,” Coates said. “The second half we showed everyone we are a good team.”
Malzahn saluted his players for their refusal to give in on the road in a hostile environment.
“We've been working on getting our edge back, and we are getting closer,” Malzahn said. “This was a big win for our program tonight. Our plan was to be in the game at halftime and wear them out in the second half. I think for the most part it worked. We are learning something about our team each week. We answered this test.”
It seemed Auburn was almost down and out when Manziel hit Evans with a 33-yard touchdown pass with 4:06 left in the third quarter and Josh Lambo kicked a 20-yard field goal 14:17 left in the game to put the Aggies up 34-24.
But Auburn players remembered what Malzahn had told them. If it was close in the fourth quarter, they would win. And that’s what they went and did.
Quarterback Nick Marshall finished off a 75-yard drive with a 13-yard run and Cameron Artis-Payne scored from the 2 to finish a 69-yard drive. Just like that, Auburn was ahead 38-34. But Manziel wasn’t done. He led a 75-yard, 12-play drive and scored from the 1 with 5:05 left. The Aggies led 41-38.
But Auburn came back. Mason attacked again and again. On third-and-9 at the A&M 39, he hit freshman Marcus Davis for 27 yards and a first down at the 12. Mason scored from the 5 with 1:19 left.
Manziel, Evans and friends wouldn’t go that quietly. They quickly moved to a first down at the Auburn 18. A pass was incomplete, then Ford got to Manziel for an 8-yard loss. On third down, Manziel escaped the pocket and broke into the clear, but linebacker Kris Frost ran him down for a 5-yard loss.
On fourth down, Ford would not be denied. He slammed Manziel down for a 22-yard loss. It was over. Auburn’s celebration began.
The Auburn heroes were numerous, but defensive back Ryan White might have been the most unexpected. When safety Josh Holsey was lost for the season on the final play of Wednesday’s practice, White was moved to safety. He made one of the big plays of the game when he intercepted a Manziel pass inside the Auburn 10-yard line.
Mason rushed for 178 yards on 27 carries and scored the final touchdown. Marshall rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries and completed 11-of-23 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Coates caught five passes for 104 yards.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: