Scoring and setting up points helped the Longhorns to overcome a fired-up Texas A&M team, a hostile atmosphere and a sluggish offense for three quarters in building a 24-16 lead. And when the Aggies fought back to take a late lead, that same offense responded to drive for the game-winning field goal in a 27-25 heart-stopping Texas victory, one that culminated with the Longhorn players chanting 'SEC' to their opponents as they went off the field.
That win, which ends the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry for the time being, gave the Longhorns (7-4 overall, 4-4 Big 12) a 76-37-5 record in the series and a chance at eight regular-season wins in 2011. Texas A&M finished the regular season at 6-6 and 4-5 in their final Big 12 season.
"Sports can be really cruel," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "It was a time tonight where both teams deserved to win."
But it didn't look great for the Longhorns early, who battled poor field position and an aggressive Aggie defense in falling behind by double digits. After earning a three-and-out, Texas A&M traveled 57 yards in just six plays, ending with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Ben Malena.
The Texas defense stiffened up, but that didn't stop Aggie kicker Randy Bullock from booting through field goals of 49 and 52 yards when the A&M offense had short fields to traverse. That gave the Aggies a 13-0 lead, and with the Longhorn offense struggling — they generated just one first down in the first quarter (on the quarter's final play) and punted on their first seven possessions, the game's outlook appeared bleak.
But then one of the punts (Just Tucker's seventh) took a quick hop and bounced off Aggie return man Dustin Harris. Jamison Berryhill fell on the loose ball at the A&M 41, and the Longhorns were in business. In fact, that business might have been FedEx, for as quickly as they exchanged the turnover for points on the scoreboard. On the very next play, Case McCoy hit Jaxon Shipley with a backwards pass, and the Aggie safeties bit up, allowing Shipley to loft a 41-yard touchdown pass to tight end Blaine Irby.
The Longhorns couldn't add any more points in the half, however, and Bullock kicked his third field goal, this one from 29, for a 16-7 lead.
But that first turnover was a cue of things to come in the third quarter. Carrington Byndom stepped in front of a Tannehill pass and returned it 58 yards for a Texas touchdown. And when the Aggies punted on their next possession, Quandre Diggs returned it 81 yards to the A&M 9. And though Texas only gained three yards, Tucker's 23-yard field goal gave Texas a 17-16 lead, its first lead of the game. That lead was extended just a few minutes later when Kenny Vaccaro intercepted another Tannehill pass at the A&M 24. This time, the Longhorns didn't need Tucker — until the extra point — with Cody Johnson pounding in from one-yard out.
Now the Longhorns had all the momentum, which they managed to keep until the game's final six minutes. Bullock kicked his fourth field goal, this one a 32-yarder, to slice the margin to 24-19. And with less than two minutes left, Tannehill connected with Jeff Fuller on a 16-yard slant route for a touchdown. A&M went for two, but Tannehill's pass failed.
Before McCoy trotted out onto the field, Brown told him, "Here's where you become the guy." And McCoy did just that, with a little officiating help. Facing a first-and-15 at the Texas 24, McCoy just missed connecting with receiver Mike Davis down the sideline. But Texas A&M safety Trent Hunter came in for the collision anyway, and while there didn't appear to be much contact, Hunter was slapped with an unnecessary roughness penalty.
Three plays later, McCoy, trying to stop a moving clock, hit Miles Onyegbule on the sideline for a four-yard gain on a third-and-one. And on the next play, McCoy scrambled from pressure and found an opening, running 25 yards and not stopping until the Longhorns were in field goal range. Two runs and a series of timeouts later, Tucker kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired for a 27-25 win.
"There's such a history between our two schools, and I give credit to A&M," Tucker said. "They played their hearts out tonight, but sending them off to the SEC with a sour taste in their mouth feels pretty good."
McCoy finished 16-of-27 for 110 yards and no touchdowns, but he also didn't turn the ball over, and he made the plays he needed to down the stretch.
"I'm proud of how hard we fought," McCoy said. "I'm proud of Justin Tucker, because he practices every day of every week. None of us doubted that he wouldn't make it."
Defensively, the Longhorns forced three turnovers — with a fourth coming on special teams — and held Tannehill to a woeful 20-of-49 passing night.
"We had to keep fighting knowing that the tide would turn," said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. "If you keep swinging offensively, it's going to go your way."
"I'm so proud of our guys for the way they finished," added Brown. "It was a great college football game … We're the ones that had more points on the board."
TEXAS A&M — Ben Malena 7 pass from Ryan Tannehill (Randy Bullock kick), 11:31 1Q
TEXAS A&M — Bullock 49 FG, 5:40 1Q
TEXAS A&M — Bullock 52 FG, 10:50 2Q
TEXAS — Blaine Irby 41 pass from Jaxon Shipley (Justin Tucker kick), 9:10 2Q
TEXAS A&M — Bullock 29 FG, 4:18 2Q
TEXAS — Carrington Byndom 58 interception return (Tucker kick), 11:06 3Q
TEXAS — Tucker 23 FG, 7:44 3Q
TEXAS — Cody Johnson 1 run (Tucker kick), 4:04 3Q
TEXAS A&M — Bullock 32 FG, 5:56 4Q
TEXAS A&M — Jeff Fuller 16 pass from Tannehill (pass failed), 1:48 4Q