Simms, Seniors Go Out In Blaze Of Glory

All week, the buzz surrounding the 109th meeting between ancient rivals Texas and Texas A&M centered on how the magnitude of Friday's nationally televised game has (for a variety of reasons) diminished in stature.

Indeed, it has. That is, until the A&M Corps of Cadets come goose-stepping into your stadium. And with Aggie players talking more smack than any 6-5 team had a right to, the emotion kicks in and, suddenly, it matters a great deal to those whose hearts pump Burnt Orange blood cells.

That's why Texas' 50-20 shellacking of the reeling Aggies in this blood rivalry is as sticky-sweet as my mama's homemade pecan pie the day after Thanksgiving. Although neither a national title nor a conference championship was at stake (Texas Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury's presence at the stadium was a painful reminder that a state championship wasn't at stake, either), the fact remains that you never want to lose to the insufferable Aggies at anything. Anything!

With the win, Texas seniors have posted a 39-12 mark, the most victories by a four-year class since freshman became eligible in 1972.

More than anything, Senior Day belonged to QB Chris Simms (16-of-24 for 278 yards, three TD's, no interceptions) and to "honorary senior" SE Roy Williams, who with 149 yards on six receptions and two touchdowns continues to set new benchmarks for Texas receivers. Simms wore his heart on his sleeve after playing his final game at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

"I honestly almost started crying before the game after I saw my mom," Simms said. "It was just a great day. I had so much fun out there. What a way to end it all. I'm just so happy with the way everybody played and the way our team responded."

In a game where six A&M turnovers made nearly all of the difference, those Aggie "woops!" became Aggie whoops throughout the contest.

Whoops! Aggie QB Dustin Long throws an interception over the middle to LB Derrick Johnson who returns it 25 yards. Whoops! RB Derrick Farmer fumbles at the Texas 29, FS Dakarai Pearson recovers the loose ball. Whoops! Byron Jones returns a kickoff 31 yards before Aaron Harris forces a fumble, recovered by special teams stud Michael Ungar. Whoops! Long throws an end-zone pick (CB Rod Babers bats the ball to Pearson) to quash an Aggie scoring threat with just more than a minute remaining in the first quarter. (And that was just the first half turnovers!)

But the three first quarter A&M turnovers yielded but a trio of Dusty Mangum field goals. Texas led, 9-0, with 2:41 remaining in the first quarter. But the Aggies got untracked on their next possession, as Long found a wide-open WR Jamaar Taylor on a 39-yard completion down the A&M sideline. The Farmers completed a six-play, 82-yard drive when Long found WR Terrance Thomas over the middle for a 12-yard score. At the end of one, Texas led 9-7 but A&M outgained the Horns in total offense, 124-48.

Texas responded with a 12-play, 90-yard scoring drive on its next possession. With the Aggies blitzing their safeties, Simms hit FL B.J. Johnson over the middle and B.J. turned it up field for a 44-yard scoring sprint. It was Simms' 56th career touchdown, giving him sole possession of the No. 2 spot on the UT career touchdown passing list. Texas led 16-7 at the 10:02 mark in the second quarter.

After the defense forced a 49-yard Cody Scates punt, Simms quickly went up top again. With a first down at his own 25, Simms tied his own school record for single season TD passes when he connected with Roy Williams on a slant pass that went for 75 yards. With 6:21 remaining until halftime, the Horns would have all the points they would need in this one, 23-7.

Texas led 23-7 going into the locker room despite outgaining the Aggies by just nine total yards (8-of-13 passing for 168 yards passing, 30 yards rushing on 21 carries).

Bumping into Carl Reese at halftime, the defense coordinator simply acknowledged that Texas won the first half and needed "to hang on, because anything can happen in college football." Instead of hanging on, Texas ended up hanging 50 on the Farmers, but not before Reese's halftime worries were nearly justified.

Texas opened the second half with RB Cedric Benson (17 carries for 88 yards, 1 TD) losing a yard, an incomplete pass, plus a QB sack. After a 42-yard Brain Bradford punt out of his own end zone, Texas A&M would set up a 57-yard, six-play scorning drive on the strength of Farmer's 30 yard run. On 3rd-and-5 from the Texas 18, Long would find WR Greg Porter for a 16-yard gain. From the Longhorn 2, Long completed a 2-yard post pass to WR Terrance Murphy for the score.

With the Aggies back within nine points, you could feel the momentum seismically shift when freshman nose guard Johnny Jolly blocked Mangum's 43-yard FG attempt (recovered by Sean Westin at the Texas 46). But then the Texas defense played its most inspired series of the contest, as the Aggies lost four yards on three plays.

After the A&M punt, starting from the UT 15, SE Sloan Thomas (shaking off a season-long hamstring injury) grabbed three consecutive receptions for 39 yards (including a diving catch for 19). Five plays later, (on 4th-and-inches) Benson would rush over right tackle and carry it in from 30 yards out, his longest run of the day. Texas had some breathing room with a 30-14 lead at the end of three.

On A&M's next possession, DE Cory Redding (playing a game every bit as inspired as his effort against Kansas State) recovered the fumble that he forced when he threw Long for a 12-yard loss. It was A&M's fifth freebie of the ballgame. On the afternoon, Redding registered five tackles, including three for losses.

"If you get that many turnovers, and turn them into points, it got the game out of reach early," head coach Mack Brown said. "You have to give Texas A&M credit because they continued to fight. Then when Cory Redding stripped Dustin Long of the ball, we hit the long pass (38-yard scoring toss on a post-pattern to a wide-open Williams), that gave us 36 (points). After that, they got one-dimensional. They didn't protect the passer well enough because, before that, they were doing a good job with the run and pass. It got them out of their game plan, and that's when the sore gets bigger than the game."

Williams broke the Texas single-season TD reception record (Herkie Walls, 1982) with his 11th score of the year on that one-play drive.

"They like to spin their safeties down and then I'm playing one-on-one against the corner," Williams said. "Then I just go out there and make plays. We're just thankful for the victory."

On the next play, however, the generous Aggie QB tossed his third interception of the game when SS Michael Huff picked a Long pass at the UT 28 and returned it for the score. Both Huff and Cedric Griffin shared team-highs with seven total tackles.

The Horns had just scored two touchdowns in 14 seconds, making it 43-12 with nearly a minute gone in the fourth quarter. But lightning would strike once more for the Burnt Orange. Cornerback Nathan Vasher pronounced himself "100 percent" this past week after battling ankle injuries throughout the season and showed what he can do when the wheels are in gear.

After the defense forced a three-and-out, Vasher fielded a 33-yard Scates punt (5-40) and then took it 60 yards to the house, straight at the A&M section in the north end zone. (You do have to hand it to the Aggies for sticking around at the 8:50 mark with the score, 50-14)

At this point, the only concern about the final outcome was whether the blowout represented the final nail in Slocum's career as Aggie coach. A press box source, who is closer to the A&M program that I would ever hope to be, whispered that he expects TAMU officials to announce a new athletic director next week who would not likely replace Slocum this season.

With a bowl game remaining (Cotton Bowl, probably) Simms is 25-6 as a starter (the third most wins by an UT signal-caller in school history) and established a 15-0 mark at home. The senior may be remembered for not beating OU, but he has certainly been the Aggie-killer. Simms wrapped up his career against A&M by completing 58-of-102 passes (56.9 percent) for 929 yards, six TD's and an interception in four games. He is 3-1 against the Aggies, with Brown reminding reporters that coaches pulled Simms in 1999 when Texas had a fourth-quarter lead and lost at A&M in the final minute.

"People beat him up all the time," Williams said, "but he goes out there and does his best. I would love to see people who talk about him go out there and read a defense and throw the football and see if they can do any better."

Texas finished the game with 380 yards (278 passing, 102 rushing) while A&M registered 337 net yards (195 passing, 142 rushing) to go along with those six turnovers. Texas converted 6-of-16 third downs and was 3-of-3 on fourth down attempts.

A Brown-coached Texas team has now defeated its in-state rivals four-of-five times. Texas improved to 70-34-5 in the all-time series.

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