Bill Little commentary: Return with honor
Nov. 28, 2009
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Playing a game against your archrival at their place when you are a heavy favorite is like being in a scary movie – your heart is in your throat for most of the show, but in the end, it seems like someone always comes to the rescue, and you escape safely.
And because college football is not a computer game, but rather it is played by talented young people who are a rare mix of intelligence, energy and emotion, it will always be so. Always it is a challenge; usually the best team wins.
For the last several games, Mack Brown had called on our old friend Rudyard Kipling and his poem “If” in an effort to reinforce the challenge surrounding this Longhorns team as it has tried to maneuver through a sea of expectations and assumptions just to get to the front door of where it wants to go.
“If you can keep your head, when all about you are losing theirs….” wrote Kipling.
And suddenly, there they were, trailing a three-touchdown underdog Texas A&M team, 7-0. Then, tied at seven. Tied at 14. Tied at 21.
All of a sudden, the rest of Kipling’s poem seemed to be popping up.
“If you can make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch and toss….”
Or in the vernacular of the Longhorns of 2009, it was time to go “all in.”
Much had been written and said about “rivalries” as the Texas game with Texas A&M approached. Some folks in the media surmised that because the Texas-Oklahoma series had recently been more competitive and more visible on the national scene, the series between the Aggies and the Longhorns had lost some of its luster.
Let me help you with something – rivalries burn deepest in the hearts of those who have not succeeded recently, but the fire between Texas and Texas A&M will always be a part of the fiber of this state. It is true that it is a series of respect, but that does not dull its competitiveness year after year, and it certainly was magnificently on display on Thanksgiving night.
In the grand scheme of things, all games are important, particularly when you are trying to achieve the first 12-game unbeaten regular season in school history. But if you want to test this series’ resiliency, just check out the totally orange Tower when the buses pulled into Austin at 2:00 on Friday morning, or get either an Aggie or a Longhorn to tell you about a game, and a time, that has past.
Thursday night was like that.
Mack Brown knew it. Will Muschamp worried about the challenges presented by the upside of a Texas A&M offense that had, at times, looked spectacular. More than any opponent Texas had faced, the Aggies and their talented quarterback had the potential to dent what had seemed to be a rock solid defense.
But Texas had come to this moment, not because of its stellar defense, or its quarterback or his receivers and his line or the kicking game or the coaches. It got here because it was, pardon the cliché, a team. And it would be as a team that it would win.
There is a legendary story about former Longhorns baseball hero Bibb Falk, who was listening to his coach, Billy Disch, give praise after a victory.
“Men,” he had said, “the Lord was with us today.”
And from the back of the room, Falk, who had tripled home the winning run, responded, “Yeah, but old Falk took over in the ninth.”
Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley and a whole bunch of the Longhorns would tell you that their inspiration comes from their faith, their family, and their friends. And when they all needed him the most, with the large majority of a crowd of over 84,000 screaming for their Aggies, onto the field stepped Colt McCoy, armed with his faith and surrounded by his friends.
In what may well be remembered as his best individual performance as a Longhorn (certainly to this point with two games left in his career), McCoy completed 24-of-40 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns, and he rushed for a total of 175 yards including a 65-yard scoring run.
Malcolm Williams had nine catches for 132 yards, Shipley caught eight balls for 88 yards and two touchdowns, and James Kirkendoll caught four passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Tre’ Newton posted his first 100-yard rushing game with 107 net yards on 16 carries, and one TD.
But despite a superlative offense effort that produced over 600 yards total offense until the ‘Horns knelt for a loss on the final play of the game, the Aggies simply would not go away.
Roddrick Muckelroy had 15 tackles, Curtis Brown 10 and Earl Thomas had nine. Thomas also intercepted his eighth pass of the season, breaking the old single-season mark set originally by Noble Doss and Jack Crain back in 1940. Still, the Longhorns couldn’t get the Aggies and their talented junior quarterback Jerrod Johnson, off the field. Texas A&M converted on 9-of-16 third-down tries, and held huge time of possession advantages in the second and fourth quarters.
In the highest scoring shootout in the series history, the movie just kept going and going, and if you were Texas, the hero just kept falling into danger, time after time. After taking what would have seemed to be a comfortable 14-point lead at 35-21, Texas watched it erode as Texas A&M kicked a field goal, then scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to make it 35-32.
But then, here came McCoy and his offense, fighting back one more time. A 47-yard pass and run to Kirkendoll stretched the lead to 10 points with 12:04 left in the game. It looked even more positive when the Longhorn kickoff team pinned Texas A&M at their own 22 on one of its best efforts of the game.
But slowly and methodically, Johnson brought his Aggies back. On a drive that took 11 plays and covered 78 yards, Texas A&M scored with 6:57 remaining in the game, and the score was 42-39.
In the movies just when it appears things are getting really scary, an unexpected little guy emerges as a hero to save the day – because movies – like rivalry games – usually have a happy ending for the favorite, despite the trauma.
It had taken Texas A&M just over five minutes to drive those 78 yards to cut the lead to a scant three points. And it took Marquise Goodwin 13 seconds to run 95 yards with the Aggies’ kickoff, stretching lead back to 10 points at 49-39 and driving a stake in the heart of the movie villain as far as UT was concerned.
The Aggies would keep it interesting, after a 39-yard kickoff return and a penalty set them up at the UT 36. But the Longhorn defense stiffened, and when Randy Bullock’s 23-yard field goal attempt floated to the right, it was effectively over.
One more rivalry battle had been exactly that, a battle. In 2005, Texas and Vince Young had brought its unbeaten record here on the road to a National Championship game, and the Longhorns had survived, 40-29. Eleven points. This one was 10.
In the 50 years since Texas came to College Station in 1959 and had to fight from 10 points down to win the Southwest Conference championship, Texas has now won 15 games, and Texas A&M 11 at Kyle Field. In his career against the Aggies, Darrell Royal’s teams were 17-3. Mack Brown’s Longhorns are now 9-3.
It is the third most-played series in NCAA history, and in winning the 116th game, Texas is now 75-36-5 against Texas A&M. In College Station, Texas’ now leads the series, 24-22-2.
Texas took as its motto for the game “Return With Honor,” following the military theme which has been pervasive during the 2009 season, and at 12-0 for the first time through a regular season, the Longhorns had done that as they headed to their respective homes for a short break before returning Sunday to begin preparation for next Saturday’s Big 12 Championship game with Nebraska.
They had survived the scary movie, and emerged victorious. They had, as Kipling had asked, “kept their heads.”