It was a strange beginning and an emotional end to a game that certainly did not go according to script. Most observers were expecting an offensive shootout of astronomical proportions from two offenses that were averaging 70 points per game between them and were facing defenses burdened by very large question marks. Until the fourth quarter, however, it was those interrogatively enhanced defenses that stole the show.
The first half ended with Tech holding a 7-6 lead -- thanks to a 10-yard Cumbie-to-Taurean Henderson touchdown pass with 4:29 remaining in the second quarter. Henderson, who had 80 yards rushing on 17 carries, caught the ball in the flat, eluded an Aggie defender, and tight-roped down the sideline and into the end zone to prevent the Tech offense from being shut out for an entire half for the first time this season.
It was a frustrating opening stanza for a Tech offense plagued by turnovers, penalties, and dropped passes. Cumbie, who completed 31 of 50 passes for 294 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions, threw two of those picks in the first half. The first was to Jephus Brown at the Aggie 30-yard line and the second was to linebacker Archie McDaniel, also in A&M territory at the 40. Outside of the Henderson touchdown, the lone offensive highlight for Tech was a miraculous one-handed catch by true freshman wideout Danny Amendola in the second quarter.
The potent Aggie offense fared no better against a razor-sharp Tech defense, which was led by an unusually active Brock Stratton from his linebacker position. The only A&M scores, 30- and 31-yard field goals by Todd Pegram, came in their opening two possessions. From that point on, the Raiders stymied Aggie quarterback Reggie McNeal and his balanced run/pass attack.
Both offenses began the third quarter as they had performed in the first half. A scrambling Cumbie threw his third interception to Jonte Buhl on Tech's opening possession of the quarter, and the Aggie offense was unable to find paydirt until the 3:23 mark when running back Courtney Lewis, who finished with 115 yards rushing on 19 carries, took an option pitch and raced 28 yards almost untouched to the end zone to make the score 12-7, A&M. The Aggies elected to go for a two-point conversion but were flagged for offensive pass interference. Pegram then missed the long extra-point kick and the score remained 12-7.
Cumbie made no excuses for the troika of interceptions.
"They were just stupid throws and stupid decisions that should not have been made. I should have thrown the ball out of bounds and lived to play another play."
The Red Raider offense got untracked on their next possession as Cumbie hit wide receiver Cody Fuller with a 39-yard strike to the Aggie 9. Two plays later Henderson trotted into the end zone from a yard out, making it 13-12 with 12:30 to play in regulation. Cumbie then rifled a shot to split end Jarrett Hicks in the back of the end zone for the two-pointer and Tech led by a field goal, 15-12. Fuller had a career best day with seven catches for 124 yards, while Hicks finished with five receptions for 29 yards.
It was at this point that the Raider defense began to fade noticeably.
"About the time the offense started playing," said Mike Leach, "the defense started playing poorly."
Hence, the Aggies needed only 49 seconds to score their next touchdown, which came compliments of a 48-yard pass from McNeal to freshman wideout Kerry Franks who was never really contested on the play. The extra point attempt was no good and the Aggies led 18-15 with 11:41 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Next, A&M did the Raiders a favor by attempting an on-sides kick, which did not travel the necessary 10 yards, and Tech took over on the Aggie 42. The Red Raiders had to settle for a 33-yard field goal, however, after Hicks dropped a sure touchdown on third down from the Aggie 16. The score was knotted at 18.
The Aggies capped off their next possession with a Keith Joseph one-yard touchdown run on third down with 5:36 to play, and the extra point gave A&M a touchdown cushion at 25-18.
Tech responded with a 71-yard drive and a nine-yard Cumbie-to-Hicks touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 10 seconds remaining. The Raider coaching staff elected to go for the extra-point kick, which Trlica drove home, tying the score at 25 and sending the game into overtime. The Tech defense, which has had difficulty with the option pitch at least since TCU's Lonta Hobbs burned it for a 62-yard touchdown earlier in the season, homed in on McNeal who pitched to Lewis at the last moment. The Aggie back then eaved his way down the sideline for the winning points.
The Raiders, who have now lost six straight games on weeks following their debut in the Associated Press poll, return to Lubbock for their final game of the season against the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The contest will be televised.