Manziel, Aggies stun No. 1 Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Johnny Football and
Southeastern Conference newbies Texas A&M took down the biggest
bully in their new neighborhood and left No. 1 Alabama with badly
bruised national championship hopes.

Johnny Manziel, better known around
Texas as Johnny Football, staked the 15th-ranked Aggies to a
three-touchdown lead in the first quarter, and Texas A&M held on to
beat the Crimson Tide 29-24 on Saturday.

The Aggies (8-2, 5-2), playing in the
SEC for the first season after ditching the Big 12, also might have
ended the league’s run of BCS titles at six years.

The defending national champion Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1), who have been No. 1 almost all season, didn’t go quietly.

AJ McCarron nearly pulled off a second
straight scintillating comeback. He threw one touchdown pass and motored
the ball downfield before Deshazor Everett stepped in front of his
fourth-down pass at the goal line with 1:36 left.

Manziel passed for 253 yards and rushed for 92 and led the Aggies to a 20-0 first quarter lead.

“No moment is too big for him,” coach Kevin Sumlin said of his remarkable redshirt freshman.

The Aggies had been 1-10 against
top-ranked teams with the only previous win coming 30-26 over Oklahoma
in 2002, but Manziel and Sumlin have entered the SEC with speed and
swagger — and fit right in.

Alabama managed a second-shot national
title after losing to LSU just over a year ago in the regular season but
seems a longshot to do it again. Alabama would have secured a spot in
the SEC championship game with a victory and only Western Carolina and
Auburn remaining.

“Two of the three national championship
teams that I coached lost a game,” Tide coach Nick Saban said, counting
one at LSU. “This team still has an opportunity to win the West and go
to the SEC championship game and win a championship. There’s still a lot
for this team to play for.”

Now, the Tide will have to beat the
Tigers to clinch the West and get into the SEC title game. As for the
national title, Alabama will have to hope for another shakeup in the
form of losses by Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame. If the Tide wins
out, and two of those teams go down, a third national championship in
four seasons is still in play — along with a seventh straight for the
SEC.

For now though, the SEC is on the outside looking in at the BCS title race.

Alabama kept coming back, but never caught up with Manziel and Texas A&M.

The nation’s top scoring defense,
forced a punt with less than a minute left, but A&M never had to
kick it away. The Tide was penalized for offisides, giving Texas A&M
a first down and a chance to kneel out the clock.

McCarron breathed life into Alabama
with a 54-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to freshman Amari
Cooper to make it 29-24 with 4:29 left.

A quick three-and-out by the Aggies put
the ball in McCarron’s hands again. He opened at the 40 with a
54-yarder to speedster Kenny Bell down to the 6. Two scrambles and an
Eddy Lacy run left one final shot from the 2 against a Texas A&M
defense often overshadowed by its potent offense.

He had some time on third down, rolling
left but finding Lacy well covered and having to try running it, a la
Manziel, before Dustin Harris stopped him at the 2.

McCarron had rescued the Tide’s
national title hopes with a 28-yard screen pass in the final minute for a
21-17 win over No. 9 LSU. The Aggies, nearly two-touchdown underdogs,
didn’t let him do it again. Everett made the play on a pass toward the
front corner of the end zone.

McCarron completed 21 of 34 passes for
309 yard but also was intercepted twice, ending his streak without
getting picked off at 291 passes.

Eddie Lacy had 16 carries for 92 yards
for Auburn and added 35 yards on four catches. Cooper had six catches
for 136 yards a week after missing much the second half of the LSU game
with an ankle injury, and failing to make a reception.

The Aggies had already lost to top-10
teams LSU and Florida by a combined eight points, proving they’re
already challengers in the powerhouse SEC.

Manziel completed 24 of 31 passes with two touchdowns and ran 18 times, including four sacks.

He kept finding Ryan Swope. They hooked
up 11 times for 111 yards and a 10-yard touchdown where Manziel bobbled
the ball as defenders swarmed him, reversed field and spotted Swope
alone in the back of the end zone.

Manziel led three first-quarter
touchdown drives for a 20-0 lead to stun the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd
of 101,821. Christine Michael had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs in the
quarter along with Swope’s catch.

The rest of the game was an emotional
roller-coaster ride for fans who might have thought LSU was the toughest
test on the road to another championship.

Then Alabama flexed its own muscle to
counter Manziel’s speed, sticking with power runs to set up 2-yard
touchdown runs by T.J. Yeldon and Lacy.

McCarron also converted a fourth-and-4
with a pass to Lacy to set up the first score. Alabama marched back down
the field after C.J. Mosley pushed Manziel out of bounds a yard shy on
fourth-and-6.

The Tide ran out all but 19 seconds with a methodical drive right back into the game.

It was still the first time Alabama had trailed at halftime since a loss at South Carolina in 2010.

Jeremy Shelley kicked a 28-yard field
goal with 4:49 in the third quarter to cut it to 20-17 and Taylor
Bertolet answered with a short one to start the fourth.