ARLINGTON, Texas – Evan Stewart fell to his knees when Texas A&M needed it most.
Prayers, for the Aggies, were answered.
After looking lost and listless early, Texas A&M staged a remarkable rally to upend a higher-ranked foe for the second time in two weeks. The No. 23 Aggies outlasted No. 10 Arkansas 23-21 Saturday evening in the Southwest Classic.
“Our kids kept our composure,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said.
A zany defensive touchdown by A&M defense that had to be seen to believed, big runs by Devon Achane and a gutsy showing Max Johnson helped erase a two-touchdown deficit over a longtime rival.
And the clincher was a potential Arkansas game-winning field goal hitting the top of the upright and bouncing back into the field of play with 90 seconds left.
Texas A&M (3-1) also opened its SEC slate with a victory, further removing the Fisher’s program for the humiliation suffered at home three weeks ago to a Sun Belt team.
Make no mistake, the Appalachian State loss is not forgotten, but beating the Razorbacks seven days after downing No. 13 Miami is a breath of a relief for the Aggies.
“We beat two good football teams,” Fisher said.
It wasn’t easy against the Hogs.
Arkansas jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on the back of KJ Jefferson. The Hogs junior quarterback struck with a pair of long touchdown passes before many in the home of the Dallas Cowboys could find their seats.
The Aggies were not only on their heels defensively, but Johnson and friends couldn’t move the ball with any success until Achane broke through with a 63-yard run almost three minutes into the second quarter.
That was the first A&M first down of the game.
The A&M drive could have stalled, or at least settle for a field goal, when faced with a third-and-5 at the Arkansas 10-yard line. Fisher called timeout, as the Aggies needed to dial up something to at least get a first down.
Johnson, with a Hog in his face, lofted the ball into the end zone. Stewart, a freshman who was suspended last week along with three teammates, went down to his knees to make the catch.
“My ball was a little short,” Johnson admitted. “I definitely should have put a little more on it, but Evan ended up coming back and making a great play.”
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Johnson, in his second start since taking over for Haynes King, finished 11-of-21 passing for 151 yards and a touchdown.
The Razorbacks (3-1, 1-1) were in position to add to their 14-7 lead with a first-and-goal from the 3 before Jefferson made an inexplicable blunder. He tried dive over the line and into the end zone despite being nowhere near the goal line and the ball popped loose.
Craziness ensued. Tyreek Chappell snatched the gift and returned it to about the 18-yard line, hot potatoed it to Demani Richardson, who took it for the final 82 yards for the kind of touchdown that changes outcomes.
“I don’t know if it saved it, but it made it a lot easier to win,” Fisher said.
The Aggies, down 14-13 at the half, carried that momentum into the final two quarters. Achane (159 yards on 19 carries) capped the first drive of second half with a 9-yard score, as A&M took its first lead, 20-14.
The Aggies added a field goal to go up 23-14 late in the third.
Arkansas finally put a stop to the 23-0 Aggies spurt with a long drive to open the fourth quarter. Jefferson’s keeper cut the A&M advantage to 23-21 with 10 minutes left.
The Razorbacks got the ball back after A&M missed a 53-yard field goal and were in position to kick the game winner. Cam Little’s 42-yard attempt clanked off the right upright, as pandemonium ensued on the A&M sideline and throughout the maroon half of AT&T Stadium.
Did Fisher think the kick was going through?
“Nope ... when he kicked it, I thought it was wide right,” he said.
Fisher’s squad did lose Ainias Smith to a leg injury in the third quarter. The star receiver was in crutches and a walking boot after the game.
Texas A&M is now 10-1 against Arkansas since joining the SEC. The Aggies are at Mississippi State next week.
You can find Art Garcia on Twitter @ArtGarcia92.
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