Aggies edge Duke in wild Chick-fil-A bowl
Even by Johnny Manziel’s Heisman-winning standards, his lead role in Texas A&M’s comeback was one to remember.
It could prove to be a perfect ending to Manziel’s college career.
Manziel threw four touchdown passes, and Toney Hurd Jr. returned an interception 55 yards for the late go-ahead touchdown in Texas A&M’s 52-48 victory over Duke on Tuesday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Led by Manziel, the Aggies rallied after trailing 38-17 at halftime. It was the highest-scoring game in the bowl’s history.
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.
"I was in a zone I haven’t been in before," Manziel said. "Ever. I just wanted this game."
Hurd’s interception return gave the No. 20 Aggies (9-4) their first lead with 3:33 remaining.
No. 22 Duke (10-4) took a 41-31 lead into 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.
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.
Duke’s Anthony Boone passed for 427 yards and three touchdowns 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, 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. He wasn’t ready to talk about his decision after the game.
"I can’t even talk about anything other than this game," Manziel said. "This was unreal. … I haven’t made (the decision) yet. I’m in the moment right now."
Asked if this would be a perfect way to cap his college career, Manziel said: "I don’t know. It’s an unreal feeling, I know that. The way these guys fought, it was unreal. I’m proud of them."
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."
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 and Jamison Crowder had 12 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown.
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 Snead’s 25-yard touchdown run. 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.