Continued from: Part One
I leave the good Doctor Norris Camacho with roughly 7:00 left in the second quarter. I need to see a man about a horse and replenish our water supply. I’m generally a 3rd Deck Man, so I am amazed by the pre-halftime lines that have already gathered for the restroom and concessions. I’m just about inside the men’s room when a man with an infant daughter asks to cut. "Trying to avoid a wet diaper" he says. The cynical side of me thinks he is using his child as a ticket to a quick bathroom break, but I acquiesce. After all, things are going great! We don’t need any bad karma.
A unique Kyle Field experience is trying to judge what is happening on the field by the crowd noise. Generally, a load roar is good. Today however I don’t know what to make of this roar followed by a confused moan. The televisions at the concession stand show the field goal being set up, but are then blacked out mid-kick by a promotion. The fans in line are incredulous. Now is not the time to advertise! Football is being played! What are these monitors for if not for this? The general consensus is that the initial try was missed, but we called timeout to "ICE" the kicker. "NFLAIDS!" I exclaim. I am firmly convinced that "ICING" is the result of some coach’s mistaken timeout in the 1960s, and I hate it. This situation makes it even worse, as there is time left on the clock for one last drive before half. Why waste the timeout? I shrug this off because things are still going swimmingly. The offense is humming. The execution is stunning. Receivers are catching, linemen are blocking, the backs are in beast mode, and everything is coming up Milhouse. Still, it’s almost as if a black cat just crossed our path. Will this twig trigger another second half landslide? Relax, Lucas….live in the now. Live in the now!
I rejoin Dr. Camacho in time for the NATIONALLY FAMOUS FIGHTIN’ TEXAS AGGIE BAND. We are amongst some Florida fans, and it’s always amusing to see visitor’s reactions to The Pulse of the Spirit of Aggieland. The Gator fans stand along with everyone else and pay attention. As the band gathers for step off, one wonders aloud, "Why aren’t they doing anything?". Nevertheless, they are generally good natured and I can tell they are impressed by the complex countermarches. The Doctor and I have seen the Band perform almost 50 times, so we enjoy the spelling out of the "SEC" and appreciate the rarity of the Band deviating from the traditional Block T.
The Aggies return to the field with 5:00 left on the halftime clock. This is uncommon early. They commence with team warmups. I must confess, this is something I’ve never seen from a college team. Usually in my experience, the players generally emerge from the locker rooms a minute or so before the 3rd quarter. Nevertheless, the team seems in good spirits, and more importantly….they appear to be loose. I remark to the Doctor, "When was the last time you saw a LOOSE A&M team?" He cannot recall, and for that matter, neither can I.
The second half begins with a kickoff through the end zone for a touchback (NOTE: I absolutely detest the new rule placing the ball at the 25). The Gators quickly begin to march down the field. The drive is methodical, bordering on boring except for an end around to Trey Burton, who is quite talented. The defense is playing hard and flying to the ball. Deshazor Everett refuses to quit on a crucial 2nd down deep in our territory, keeping contain on Burton and then making the tackle after being knocked down. We hold. Relief is palpable as Sturgis kicks another field goal.
I’m ready for more Johnny Football. Let’s face it, Johnny Be Good. The raw athleticism is apparent. A neighboring Aggie informs me that Mr. Football can jump out of a swimming pool and land on his feet, causing thoughts of a future Bucky McNeal to dance in my head. Yet it is not meant to be as we narrowly miss a first down after two runs by Christine Michael and a short comeback to Evans. I’m uncomfortable with the idea of a three and out, and the crowd is beginning to tense up.
Yet the defense is standing tall! The two teams settle into traditional SEC defensive manball. I tip my hat to Ryan Epperson who proves to be Lechleresque today. My primary concern this season was the lack of depth on our defensive line, and I’ve focused on the front seven all day. I have nothing but praise for their efforts. There is gap integrity (I love this term), tackling, containment, and NO FEAR. This is truly "grown man football" and Spencer Nealy is a man, even if he isn’t 40. Sean Porter and Damontre Moore are relentless. My eyes have focused on a new addition, #95. Turns out that #95 is Julien Obioha (Great name), a true freshman who is not only standing tall against Florida’s veteran line, he’s making plays.
With less than a minute remaining in the quarter Johnny Football hooks up with Mike Evans for our first down of the half. The pass is one of those long outs across the field that would make Jon Gruden spontaneously orgasm. However, the gain is wiped out by personal foul on Kenric McNeal. 1st and 10 again from the same yard line.
The field then flips for the fourth quarter, and the short lived drive ends after Johnny is sacked on 3rd down. For some reason we have completely abandoned Christine Michael. Fans wonder if he is injured. You can almost feel the game slipping away. The defense has been on the field practically the entire half. Finally, they make a mistake and Steven Campbell is beaten for 39 yards by Omarius Hines. Its not a Torbushian blown coverage, and it requires a nice pass from Jeff Driskel, but it takes the air out of the crowd. Soon after Mike Gillislee scampers in for the seemingly inevitable touchdown.
Now the offense has to do something. Alas, nothing seems to work. The Florida defense has focused their efforts on containing Johnny Manziel. The fans cry out for the Aggies to stretch the field, but nobody appears to be open as the Gator defensive backs are playing extremely well. Johnny is being patient and going through progressions, but does not let it fly. The teams exchange punts again. With 6:00 remaining in the game, Florida is stopped on 3rd and 1 by an outstanding play by Mr. Obioha. Our next drive starts promisingly, as Sumlin decides to go back to the ground. Trey Williams runs for a nice gain and a designed draw by Manziel results in just the 2nd first down in the half. The building momentum is halted by "injuries" to Gator personnel. After first down, Gator linebacker Michael Taylor is on the ground. After a few minutes he jumps to his feet and is greeted by a chorus of boos and hissing. This gamesmanship proves effective as Patrick Lewis commits a costly false start. Now faced with 2nd and 13, Manziel narrowly avoids an interception on a sideline pass and then is unable to convert on 3rd down, gaining only 11 yards on a scramble.
The Ags punt again, giving the ball back to the Gators with a little over three minutes remaining. You know the rest. The Aggies are unable to force another Florida punt, thwarted by an unfortunate facemask penalty and some clever play calling by former Boise coordinator Brent Pease.
After the game, the silence is deafening. The Doctor and I stare blankly at the field. We’ve been through this before yet somehow this feels different. It doesn’t feel like we "choked". There weren’t any glaring drops, fumbles, picks, or dropped punts. No blown coverages or bonehead playcalls. For once, I can honestly say that time just ran out on the Aggies. In our first SEC prizefight, we lost a split decision.
I’ve been standing all day, and I am not looking forward to the 3 mile trek back to the hotel. Before we go, the Doctor and I step down onto Kyle Field to take in one last look. The disappointment stings, but I feel something else beneath it. I feel pride. I feel tremendous pride in my university and our football team swelling within me. They left it all out here today. They were amped, they were prepared, and we were undaunted as they stepped out onto the national stage. While victory may have eluded us, this team and 87,114 screaming fans showed the nation today that A&M belongs in the big time.