BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It wasn't the game that people expected, but No. 1 Alabama vs unranked Texas A&M certainly delivered, with the Aggies defeating the Crimson Tide 41-38 with a game-winning field goal as the clock expired.
On the night of the heavyweight title match between Tyson Fury and Tuscaloosa-born Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas, another heavyweight fight between the Crimson Tide and the Aggies took place. Both teams exchanged punch after punch, but at the end of the bout it was the clenched fist of Texas A&M that was hoisted high above its head.
In the crimson corner, Alabama head coach Nick Saban held an impressive 24-0 record against his former assistant coaches. The No. 1 team in the country, Alabama certainly had an impressive resume to back it up. Heading into the matchup, the Crimson Tide was riding a 100-game winning streak against unranked opponents.
All week, Saban had emphasized how the Aggies were a team that his team did not need to underestimate. Despite Texas A&M beginning the season 3-2 compared to Alabama's 5-0, he stressed on multiple occasions that Saturday night's game against the Aggies could be a 'trap game'
"I knew we were playing a good team," Saban said in his postgame press conference. "I know they lost two games, but they've got a good defense. They've got good players. [...] I thought we would have a really tough game here."
In the maroon corner, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher has never beaten a Nick-Saban-coached team. His unranked Aggies came into Saturday night with odds stacked highly against them.
After the game, Fisher said that his team ignored that the odds were stacked against them.
"There isn't no secret to this," a fired-up Fisher said after the game. "There ain't no magical formula. They gotta believe in what you tell 'em and they gotta eliminate all the social media, all the media — good, bad, indifferent — knock it out. Don't read it. I wouldn't even read it. I don't.
"Then you gotta line up and you gotta play. You write your own history."
History was certainly made on Saturday night at Kyle Field in College Station.
In the first quarter, the Aggies took possession of the football first and composed a seven-play, 54-yard drive to stun Alabama and jump ahead 3-0 with a 38-yard field goal. The points marked the first time that the Crimson Tide had trailed in a football game since all the way back on Oct. 17 against Georgia last season.
Alabama took possession on the ensuing drive and put together a 10-play, 65-yard drive to jump ahead 7-3 with a touchdown pass from quarterback Bryce Young to running back Roydell Williams. However, the blow put forth by the Crimson Tide would be the only point of the game that the team would lead.
After Texas A&M scored on the next possession with a 27-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Zach Calzada to tight end Jalen Wydermyer to take a 10-7 lead, Alabama turned the football over on its next two possessions. A fumble by running back Brian Robinson Jr. followed by an interception in the end zone by Young resulted in seven more points being put on the board after a 6-yard touchdown pass from Calzada to wide receiver Ainias Smith.
A 38-yard field goal in the second quarter by Will Reichard cut the Aggies lead to seven, but once again Texas A&M responded with another touchdown, this time a 15-yard rush by running back Isaiah Spiller.
At the end of the first half, the Aggies led the Crimson Tide 24-10 and seemed to be the heavy-handed favorite to take home the victory. In total on offense, Texas A&M outperformed Alabama on offense 258 yards to 209. Calzada finished the first half with 183 passing yards — already the second-best performance of his career.
Through the first half of the rounds in the heavyweight fight, Alabama emerged bloody and bruised. Texas A&M had taken a few punches from the Crimson Tide but overall, the scorecard was heavily weighted in the Aggies' favor.
At the start of the second half, Alabama received the football first. In the Crimson Tide's last opportunity to regain control of the game, the top-ranked team in the nation could only compose a 10-yard, 33-yard drive that ultimately resulted in a punt.
Alabama wasn't quite finished yet, though. On the next drive for Texas A&M, Alabama held the Aggies to its first three-and-out of the game. When Texas A&M took the field to punt, Alabama wide receiver Ja'Corey Brooks blocked the punt inside the Aggies' own red zone, with the football recovered in the end zone by linebacker King Mwikuta.
It might not have been the knockout punch, but it was enough to put the Crimson Tide back into the game. The enthusiasm would last only mere seconds.
On the ensuing kickoff, Aggies running back Devon Archane fielded the kick at his own 4-yard line. He then returned the football 96 yards to increase the points margin right back to 14. It was as if anything and everything Alabama threw at Texas A&M, the Aggies always had an answer.
It was an uppercut to the jaw that sent the Crimson Tide reeling back onto the ropes. However, Alabama wasn't out of the fight just yet.
A six-play, 75-yard drive ending with a 29-yard touchdown reception by Jameson Williams cut the Texas A&M lead back down to seven. The crowd of 106,000 Aggies fans were quieted by the Alabama offensive display, and they grew even quieter when the Crimson Tide forced the opposition to punt on its next drive.
Taking control on the Texas A&M 43-yard line, Alabama drove the ball all the way down to the Aggies' 20-yard line in seven plays. As the third quarter drew to a close, the Crimson Tide trailed 31-24 on a third-and-13 situation.
The third quarter was scored in Alabama's favor. On offense, Alabama out-gained Texas A&M 160-10. As the fourth quarter began, the final round would decide it all. Both teams were battered, but neither had been able to land a knockout punch just yet.
Alabama was unable to convert the third down on the first play of the fourth quarter, resulting in a 26-yard field goal by Reichard to pull the Crimson Tide within four points — the closest margin of the game since the first quarter.
Texas A&M was forced to punt on its next drive, and a 20-yard punt return by wide receiver JoJo Earle placed Alabama at its own 32 to begin its drive. After 12 plays, the Crimson Tide had driven all the way down to the Aggies' 4-yard line. On fourth down, Alabama settled for a 22-yard Reichard field goal. With 8:48 left to play, the Crimson Tide trailed by one point, 31-30.
Alabama defense held Texas A&M to its third three-and-out of the game. Forced to punt, the Aggies would put the Crimson Tide in position to start its drive on its own 18-yard line.
Nine plays and 82 yards later, Young found Williams all alone in the end zone thanks to a Texas A&M defense that completely missed him lining up at the line of scrimmage. The Crimson Tide proceeded to attempt a two-point conversion, which succeeded — another connection between Young and Williams.
Another six plays and another 65 yards, and Texas A&M pulled within one point with a 25-yard touchdown reception from Calzada to Smith. However, Calzada was injured on the play and had to be assisted by two trainers. With the extra point good, the game was tied for the first time with exactly three minutes left.
With the ensuing kickoff sailing through the end zone, Alabama began its drive on its own 25-yard line. Three plays later with only one yard to show for it, and the Crimson Tide were forced to punt on fourth down.
A 43-yard punt with a four-yard return put the Aggies in solid field position to begin its drive. With Calzada returning and Texas A&M starting on its own 35, Spiller was tackled for a loss of five yards on first down. A 17-yard reception by Spiller on the next play gave Texas A&M a fresh set of downs at its own 47.
A defensive pass interference on third and seven placed the Aggies at the Crimson Tide's 12-yard line with 14 seconds left to play. A one-yard rush by Spiller and a timeout at the two-second mark, and Texas A&M kicker Seth Small stepped onto the field to line up the final blow.
The 20-yard field goal was good. Knockout punch delivered. TKO. 41-38. Ball game.
As the sellout crowd rushed the field just behind its team, If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band) by the ironic band 'Alabama' began blasting over Kyle Field's speakers. The Aggies had done it. They had taken down the undefeated, undisputed defending champion of college football.
With the victory, Fisher became the first former assistant coach of Saban to defeat him on the gridiron. Saban's record now falls to 24-1 against his former assistants.
"That's what football is," Fisher said. "You get up off the canvas. You get the heck knocked out of you, you gotta go play the next play. People don't care [about] that response for your team but our whole team did that all night. They stayed in the game and [did] it."
Despite the loss, Alabama outperformed Texas A&M on offense 522 total yards to 379. In the air, Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young passed for 369 passing yards compared to Calzada's 285.
On the ground, Robinson led the Alabama running backs with 24 carries for 147 yards. On average, he carried the ball 6.1 yards per carry, far outperforming Texas A&M's Spiller. Spiller rushed 17 times for 46 yards and a touchdown.
The Alabama receivers were also effective, with the leader being Williams with 10 receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Williams also made the two-point reception to put the Crimson Tide up by a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"Obviously this is a very disappointing loss for us," Saban said. "I know the players are very disappointed but I think that everybody needs to remember how they feel and not forget it. Because when I talk about having respect for winning, that's what I mean. You want to avoid the feeling you have when you lose.
"A lot of lessons to be learned out there tonight."