Duke blows lead, falls 52-48 to Texas A&M
The Duke Blue Devils believe they won over some doubters even when they couldn't win the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Anthony Boone passed for 427 yards and three touchdowns but threw two interceptions in the final 4 minutes, including one Toney Hurd Jr. returned 55 yards for the go-ahead touchdown in Texas A&M's 52-48 comeback victory Tuesday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Johnny Manziel threw four touchdown passes for the No. 20 Aggies (9-4) and the No. 22 Blue Devils (10-4) couldn't hold a 38-17 halftime lead.
Boone also had a big game but was left to regret the two interceptions, especially Hurd's.
''It hurt,'' Boone said. ''It was a very unfortunate play on my part.''
Manziel, playing in what might be his final college game, completed 30 of 38 passes for 382 yards and ran for 73 yards and a touchdown. Hurd's interception return gave the Aggies their first lead with 3:33 remaining.
Until that point, Duke appeared set to pull off the upset over Texas A&M, the favorite by 12 1/2 points.
''I hope people saw that we're Duke football and we're not backing down from anyone,'' Duke linebacker Kelby Brown said.
Duke led 41-31 entering the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils couldn't hold off the comeback and are still looking for their first bowl win since beating Arkansas 7-6 in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
Wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who had 12 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown, said it was ''definitely devastating'' to lose the big lead.
''We just went out and played well,'' Crowder said. ''We made plays. It sucks we didn't make them when we needed to, but overall we played real well offensively.
''We pretty much controlled the game. And to lose like that ...''
Brown said Duke can still celebrate its first 10-win season, which included a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
''It seems like it should be more bitter, but it's time to look back at what we've done and thank the seniors for what they've done,'' Brown said.
Josh Snead ran and caught passes for touchdowns and blocked a punt to set up a scoring run by Boone as Duke dominated the first half.
Snead capped Duke's opening drive with an 11-yard touchdown catch. He had 17 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown and three catches for 21 yards and a touchdown. Juwan Thompson added 92 yards rushing for the Blue Devils.
Manziel was asked about entering the NFL draft after the game.
''I can't even talk about anything other than this game,'' Manziel said. ''This was unreal.''
Hurd stepped in front of receiver Johnell Barnes for the interception, the first turnover for either team. Texas A&M linebacker Nate Askew ended Duke's next possession with another interception.
Manziel, a third-year sophomore who won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman last season, is widely projected as a first-round pick if he decides to enter the NFL draft.
Texas A&M's defense opened the second half with its first stop of the game. The Blue Devils, successful on two fourth-down calls in the first half, were stopped on fourth down from the Texas A&M 35.
That set the stage for Manziel's magic.
The elusive quarterback had runs of 12 and 14 yards before his highlight play of the game. On second down from the Duke 17, Manziel danced and shuffled in traffic before vaulting a defender and dumping a short pass to Travis Labhart, who scored easily for his third touchdown of the game.
''It looked like we had him down three times,'' Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. ''He's just strong, so strong.''
All the pregame focus on Manziel and his possible farewell game failed to address the Aggies' weakness that made the 2013 season a disappointment. Texas A&M ranked last in the Southeastern Conference and 105th in the nation in total defense and 88th in the nation in scoring defense.
Duke's offense, led by Boone, ripped through the vulnerable Texas A&M defense. The Blue Devils gained 365 yards with no punts in the first half while building the three-touchdown lead.
Manziel and the Aggies couldn't match Duke's relentless attack. Mistakes hurt the Aggies, including an unsportsmanlike conduct call against receiver Mike Evans which helped to stall their first possession. Evans drew a second personal foul call later in the first quarter and then had to hear about it on the sideline from Manziel.
Duke attacked with go-for-broke play-calling.
The Blue Devils were successful on two four-and-1 plays in a second-quarter drive that ended with Josh Snead's 25-yard touchdown run, his second score of the game. Duke then added even more pressure by recovering an onside kick following the touchdown.
The recovery at midfield set up Ross Martin's 18-yard field goal on the final play of the half.