HOUSTON, Texas - As players gather around the podium inside NRG Stadium, Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond couldn't help but smile. Handed a trophy and place a black-felt Larry Mahan cowboy hat, the junior looked as if he has stepped out of a Western movie as the lead protagonist.
Part of that is correct. Although the picture wasn't in black and white, Mond's heroics led the Aggies to a 24-21 victory over No.25 Oklahoma State in the Texas Bowl. His 67-yard touchdown made him stand out as the hero, winning the hat as the bowl game's Most Valuable Player.
"He did a great job stretching the option, which allowed everybody to get their blocks and just sort it out, and then when he hit the seam, it's like a zone scheme, and he got inside and ran away from everybody, and it was a big time play and big time moment," A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Like any hero, they must go through trials and tribulations to earn the respect of others. Consider the 2019 season as a whole his hero's journey path. Heading into the season, Mond was considered one of the top quarterback in the SEC thanks to a successful sophomore season.
Much like his Texas Bowl performance, the season came with mixed results. Perhaps Friday night was a recap of the season's overall outcome.
As clutch as Mond was to close out the Aggies (8-5) season with a victory, he instrumented several drives that could have led to grandeur disaster. On the second play of the game, he would fumble in the open field and cause a turnover. Four drives later at Oklahoma State's 5, a botched snap led to the second turnover of the half.
Throw in a pair of overthrown touchdown passes and Mond's night should have been remembered for the mistakes instead of the magic.
"I was frustrated with myself," Mond said. "I had two turnovers and then missed a throw to Ainias [Smith] for a touchdown. Them (teammates) keeping me up and coach just continuing to stay on me (was a) positive encouragement."
In any movie, there is a second-half storyline. Mond rewrote his narrative on the opening drive of the third quarter. Connecting with Jalen Wydermyer for a 20-yard gain, Mond would find his go-to target in Jhamon Aubson for a 10-yard touchdown, tying the game at 14 apiece.
Knowing his ammo was low through the air, Mond used his legs to provide life late. He'd roll right for a 16-yard gain, picking up the first down. Two plays later, the legend of the legs was written.
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Mond broke through traffic, evading the pressure and working through the defense. With a block from Aubson, the quarterback would burst up the seam into the open field. It was a foot race to the end zone with Malcolm Rodriguez coming up the rear.
A near tackle potentially would make things interesting. Instead, Mond found a late jump and crossed the goal line like a track star in a photo finish race.
"I think I made one guy miss," Mond said. "I tried my best to get into the end zone. I almost got tackled from behind, but thank God I didn't."
The defense stepped up for their quarterback to keep the Aggies up by seven. Speedster starting quarterback Spencer Sanders couldn't convert on fourth down thanks to a DeMarvin Leal stuff at the line.
Cheering from the sidelines, the offense knew they had a chance to finish the deed. Mond would break free for a 30-yard run into Oklahoma State's red zone. A Seth Small kick put A&M up by 10.
Mond threw for 95 yards. He would rush for a career-high 117. Beaming as he hugged Fisher, Mond found a way to win one final time to close out the decade.
Moments can define a player's career. Throughout the 2019 season, Mond's career saw two sides. Some were promising, like his five-touchdown performance against Mississippi State. Others were skeptical, like a 92-yard outing against LSU.
But as he flipped the brim of his first cowboy hat, Mond smiled accepting the honors. Walking away like a ranger into the sunset, he can hold his head high, heading into the new decade.
A decade that could begin with promising results for the program.
"There's a lot of guys that are young. I'm very happy and excited," Fisher said Friday evening. "It's great to have young players with talent if they learn and get better and have an urgency to be great. You know what I'm saying? That's my challenge to them right now. We are good. We have talent."