Texas A&M beats No. 1 Alabama 41-38 on last-play field goal

Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas – During a speaking engagement this spring Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher used colorful language to proclaim his team would beat Alabama during coach Nick Saban‘s career.

He fulfilled that promise in his first try since that vow Saturday night, handing the defending national champions their first loss since 2019 in a thrilling upset.

“Our team beat a really good football team … and that’s what’s important to me,” Fisher said.

Seth Small made a 28-yard field goal as time expired and Texas A&M stunned top-ranked Alabama 41-38 to end the Crimson Tide’s winning streak at 19 games.

The victory came on Fisher’s 56th birthday and is certainly Texas A&M’s biggest win since Fisher took over in 2018.

“I didn’t know what to get him, so we thought as a team that we should get a win for him,” Small said.

Alabama (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) had scored 21 straight points – capped by a TD reception and 2-point conversion grab by Jameson Williams – to take a 38-31 lead with five minutes to go.

Texas A&M (4-2, 1-2) tied it at 38 when Zach Calzada connected with Ainias Smith for a 25-yard touchdown with three minutes left. Calzada was hit as he threw the strike and had to be helped off the field but returned for the next drive after a visit to the medical tent.

Calzada returned after the Aggies forced a punt to orchestrate the winning drive, highlighted by a 17-yard pass to Isaiah Spiller before Small finished it off to send fans streaming onto the field to celebrate.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Fisher said. “We made plays at critical times.”

Calzada threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns, as the former backup played like a star. Devon Achane returned a kickoff 96 yards for a TD in the third quarter and A&M’s defense got after Bryce Young all night.

“This is a great win,” Achane said. “It shows us that we’re capable of doing great things.”

Smith finished with 85 yards receiving and two scores and Jalen Wydermyer had 73 yards receiving and a TD to help the Aggies to the win.

Alabama hadn’t lost since falling 48-45 to Auburn on Nov. 30, 2019.

“Everyone needs to remember how they feel and not forget it,” Saban said.

It’s the first time Saban has lost to one of his assistants after entering the game a perfect 24-0 in those games. He’d beaten Fisher four times, the most of any of his former staffers.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” Fisher said about ending the former assistants streak. “Our football team is learning to play against other great football teams and have success. That’s what matters to me.”

Texas A&M also ended Alabama’s streak of 100 wins over unranked teams, dating to a win over Colorado in the 2007 Independence Bowl to cap Saban’s first season.

The Aggies entered the season ranked sixth and gunning for Alabama after the Crimson Tide handed them their only loss last season. But by last week it looked as if this would be a lost season for the Aggies after consecutive defeats by Arkansas and Mississippi State sent them tumbling out of the Top 25.

But instead of falling into a bigger hole this week, the Aggies pulled off the upset to snap an eight-game skid against Alabama. It’s their first win in the series since Johnny Manziel‘s spectacular performance led them to a 29-24 win in 2012 on the road when the Crimson Tide was also ranked first.

“We had a couple of tough weeks … (but) you’re defined by how you respond to adversity,” Fisher said.

Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy that season, was among the 106,815 fans at Kyle Field on Saturday night to watch the Aggies beat the Crimson Tide at home for the first time ever. A&M’s first win in the series came in a 20-16 win in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1968.

Manziel was among those celebrating on the field after the game in the wild postgame party.

The 17 1/2-point underdogs gained control of this one early, racing out to a 24-10 halftime lead behind two takeaways and a splendid start by Calzada. A&M’s 24 points in the first half were the most Alabama had allowed to an unranked opponent before halftime during Saban’s tenure.

“There were a lot of issues,” Saban said.

Young threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns and Williams had 146 yards receiving. Brian Robinson Jr. added 147 yards rushing.

Alabama cut the lead to seven when DeMarcco Hellams blocked a punt by Nik Constantinou and King Mwikuta pounced on it in the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter.

But the Aggies took the blow and responded immediately with one of their own. Achane zig-zagged through two waves of defenders and then displayed the elite speed that lets him double as a sprinter on the track team to simply outrun everyone to make it 31-17 with eight minutes left in the third.

“The hole was so big,” Achane said. “It was like is this for me?”

Young then capped a 75-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass Williams to cut the lead to 31-24. Williams put his finger to his lips to shush the crowd after the score.

THE TAKEAWAY

Alabama has some things to clean up to get back on track and try to get a chance to defend its title. The Aggies must be kicking themselves that they didn’t play better in the last two weeks so this win could have meant a lot more.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Alabama is certainly to fall a few spots in the poll after the loss and getting a win over the defending champs should be enough to get the Aggies back in the Top 25.

UP NEXT

Alabama: At Mississippi State on Saturday night.

Texas A&M: At Missouri on Saturday.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.

Pratt accounts for 5 TDs, Tulane tops UCF 45-28 to win AAC

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW ORLEANS – As Tulane receiver Shae Wyatt watched jubilant fans streaming onto the field, he couldn’t help but reflect upon how far his team had come since finishing last season 2-10.

“It’s definitely surreal,” said Wyatt, whose two touchdown catches were no small part of why a celebratory scene so hard to conceive of a year ago was unfolding around him. “Seeing all the other schools with their success, and having their fans storm the field – eventually, everybody wants that.”

Michael Pratt accounted for 442 total yards and five touchdowns, Tyjae Spears highlighted his 199 yards rushing with a 60-yard score and No. 18 Tulane beat No. 22 UCF 45-28 on Saturday night in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

The victory virtually assured Tulane (11-2) would play in the Cotton Bowl – its first major New Year’s Day bowl since the 1939 season.

A full hour after the game, Tulane players were still in uniform, walking back to the field from the locker room to pose for photos with teammates, some with cigars in hand. Spears joked that his elbow was sore from fans pulling on him for a congratulatory embrace.

“It was an amazing feeling, man,” Spears said. “That’s something that will stick with us for the rest of our life.”

And Wyatt suggested that Tulane’s remarkable turnaround should serve as a lesson.

“They were just throwing dirt over us and for a while it was hard to bounce back,” Wyatt said of last season, during which Tulane was displaced by Hurricane Ida to a Birmingham hotel for a month, and plagued with injuries to prominent players.

“If you keep your faith and you believe in your brothers that are next to you, flowers will grow. I promise you,” Wyatt said. “I hope this is a testament to anybody out there.”

Pratt passed for a career-high 394 yards, including touchdowns of 73 yards to Duece Watts, 60 and 10 yards to Wyatt and 43 yards to Lawrence Keys. Pratt also ran for a pivotal 18-yard touchdown with 4:04 left.

“It was awesome to close out that game and have those fans so fired up,” said Pratt, named the game’s most outstanding player.

Spears electrified the record crowd of 30,118 at Tulane’s cozy, on-campus Yulman Stadium with his long scoring run, on which he broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage, made two other defenders miss and hurndled his own fallen teammate after cutting back inside.

The Green Wave, which earned the right to host the title game by ending Cincinnati’s 32-game home winning streak last weekend, avenged a 38-31 regular-season loss to UCF (9-4) on the same field on Nov. 12.

But UCF was not quite the same team because of QB John Rhys Plumlee‘s nagging hamstring injury, which appeared to rob him of the explosiveness he displayed by running for 176 yards in the previous meeting.

Plumlee struggled enough early on that coach Gus Malzahn pulled him in the second quarter in favor of Thomas Castellanos. But with Tulane up 24-7 in the middle of the third quarter, Malzahn put Plumlee back in as primarily a passer – and he nearly led the Kights all the way back.

“He’s one of the toughest players I think I’ve ever coached,” Malzahn said. “John Rhys just kept telling me, `Coach, give me another chance.’ … He really gave us a spark.”

Plumlee led UCF quickly for a touchdown to make it 24-14, converting a fourth-and-10 pass along the way and capping the drive with a 17-yarder to Kobe Hudson.

“You work all year to play in a game like this,” said Plumlee, who completed 29 of 39 for 209 yards and one TD, but finished with minus-7 yards rushing as Tulane had six sacks. “I didn’t want to sell myself short or sell this team short.”

Tulane responded when both UCF safeties froze on a play-fake to Spears and Pratt found Watts running free behind the defense.

UCF cut it to 31-21 when former Virginia QB RJ Harvey took a backward pass from Plumlee and launched a 49-yard TD pass to Hudson.

And the Knights got the ball right back when Spears fumbled after a catch on the Green Wave 30. Isaiah Bowser‘s 10-yard run shortly after got UCF as close as 31-28 with 9:48 still left.

But Pratt again found a way to lead the Wave down the field, connecting with Wyatt for the longer of the receiver’s two TDs, and UCF didn’t threaten again.

THE TAKEAWAY

UCF: Knights sophomore backup QB Mikey Keene, who had come in after Plumlee injuries for comeback victories over Cincinnati and South Florida, did not dress for the game. That allowed him to retain a year of eligibility, but also raised questions over whether he might test the transfer portal.

Tulane: It was a dream end to week that got off to a less-than-ideal start with reports out of Atlaata that head coach Willie Fritz being pursued by Georgia Tech.

“Well, I sure am glad I stayed,” Fritz said. “I made a commitment to these kids and the last thing I ever wanted to be was a distraction. So, I’m just proud to be here.”

UP NEXT

UCF: Awaits a bowl bid on Sunday.

Tulane: Heads to its most significant bowl appearance since losing 14-13 to Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1940.