Friday, November 25, 2011
One last A&M loss on the way to the SEC
By David Ubben
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The deed was done.
Amidst a stream of long-faced Aggies fans filing out of the Kyle Field bleachers, a single hand flashed the most famous hand signal in Texas -- the hook 'em Horns -- and let out a primal "Yeah!"
Minutes earlier, the Aggies watched Justin Tucker flutter a 40-yard kick through the uprights for a 27-25 Texas win, leaving the worst phrase in sports behind for the A&M faithful.
"Better luck next year."
The deepest burn in the Aggies' self-inflicted wound on Thursday night was the Longhorns' absence a year from now, and likely many years in the future. Thanksgiving will come and go. The Longhorns won't be coming to College Station. The Aggies won't march to Austin.
These bitter rivals have undergone this joyous ritual 118 times in their history dating back to 1894. They won't again for the foreseeable future when Texas A&M kicks off its SEC schedule next fall and the Longhorns stay behind in the Big 12.
A 25-yard run by quarterback Case McCoy helped set up the Longhorns for the game-winning field goal.
On Thursday night, the Aggies' biggest flaw flashed its face one more time, and Texas A&M will be forced to live with it for years to come.
"Seems like it's the same comment I've made before," coach Mike Sherman said before being asked a single question after the loss.
Another double-digit first-half lead -- nine at halftime -- and another crushing loss.
"Probably the hardest loss I've had since I've been here," said senior receiver Jeff Fuller.
Thursday marked the fifth time this season the Aggies controlled the game's first 30 minutes before ceding to chaos in the final stanza. In 12 outings this season, the Aggies were favored to win 11 times. They finish 6-6. A middling December bowl game awaits. For all the pain and frustration of this season -- losses at home to Oklahoma State, Missouri and a loss to future SEC foe Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium were among the worst -- a win against hated Texas would have made a disappointing 2011 season feel a bit more complete.
Fuller's 16-yard touchdown catch to snatch back the lead with 1:48 left made it feel oh so close.
"I didn't notice anybody panicking," said Sherman, now 25-25 in four seasons at Texas A&M. "If you look at our sideline, it's not a panicked sideline. It never has been. It never will be. We pretty much keep our composure."
Texas' offense, better than just two Big 12 teams, patching together a game-winning drive? Don't count on it.
In the cruelest of fashions, the improbable silenced the nearly hoarse 12th Man. Sophomore Case McCoy -- brother of perennial Aggie-annoyance Colt -- slipped past a pass rush for a 25-yard scramble to bring a second comeback in a single half near its completion.
This was the way it's always been. In many ways, it was how it had to end. The Longhorns, aka Big Brother, getting the best of the Aggies, ripping out a heart flush with hope from a touchdown pass to Fuller that embodied clutch.
Land grant versus the flagship. All too cruel. All too poetic.
"The young guys aren't going to get a chance to come back in the spring, work as hard as they can and avenge this loss," safety Trent Hunter said.
A loss that fit the mold of nearly every other defeat this season left Sherman saying words of frustration that were exceeded only by their familiarity.
"This was a game that we should have won," he said. "And we didn't."
Turnovers, an offense gone cold and a defense that looked lost let the Longhorns back into the game and kept the Aggies from scratching a seventh satisfying notch in the win column, even when so many more -- 10 wins? Eleven? -- could have gone the Aggies' way.
"We set our standards high and we didn't achieve what we wanted to. It's always difficult," Hunter said.
Instead, a tearful, silent locker room with nothing left to say and a future that's looking all the more imposing by the day. One of Texas A&M's most talented teams in recent history, forced to write 6-6 in the record books, complete with a loss to Texas.
"The Texas-Texas A&M game speaks for itself," said running back Ben Malena. "But we're going to the SEC next year, so we've got bigger and better things to worry about."