Seth Small delivered the winning points against No. 1 Alabama, but the Texas A&M kicker knows who the real hero was.
Small also happens to occupy the locker next to Zach Calzada.
“Zach’s first day on campus looks much different than how he looks now,” Small said in the aftermath of the Aggies’ improbable 41-38 upset. “To see how he’s matured as a person, as a football player, as a leader on this team had been incredible.
“He says that I played a role in that as an older guy trying to influence him a little bit, but that’s all Zach. He’s worked his tail off. The quarterback race was really close this offseason, and he showed what he was capable of [Saturday night]. And I just love Zach.”
He’s not the only one. Calzada has taken the circuitous road from backup to highly-criticized starter to near legend in about a month. His performance against the Crimson Tide was one for the ages.
Not to mention the last five minutes. With the Aggies down and looking completely lost offensively in the second half after squandering a 14-point lead, the redshirt sophomore from Georgia delivered when it counted most.
“We had two straight drives that we scored,” Jimbo Fisher said. “To get down 38‑31, to be behind after being up like that, and to respond back and Zach stood in there and made throws. He got hit in the mouth, but our guys made plays.”
After his game-tying touchdown pass to Ainias Smith with three minutes left, Calzada was hit low and had to be helped off the field. He also had to be told the score.
“Zach getting back off the canvas and taking a hit right there,” Fisher said. “Didn't know that play was a touchdown. When they said that play was a touchdown, he smiled and went back in and he was fine.”
Calzada was more than fine. He was superb against the best team in the land. He found seven different receivers during the game, including Smith for two scores, and didn’t take a sack.
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He threw for 285 yards after managing just 286 yards in the two previous games (both losses) combined. Haynes King's former backup wasn’t inspiring much hope among the Aggies faithful leading up to Alabama.
But something changed since losing to Mississippi State at home last week.
“He was very different,” said Smith, who caught six passes for 85 yards. “He just went back to practice and worked on the things that he needed to get better at. We been knowing what he can do. He just came out … and showed the abilities to the 12th Man.
“We’re thankful for them as well. They cheered him on, and he just was calm and he was just more confident and consistent.”
All those attributes shined through on the closing drive. Calzada completed two big passes, ran for a first down and coaxed a pass inference out of Alabama to set up Small’s final dagger in the hero-defining victory.
And while Small's 28-yard field goal provided the difference, Calzada’s name was the one being chanted by the 106,000-strong at Kyle Field after the eight-game losing streak to the Tide had ended.
“‘That’s really sweet,’ was my first thought,” Small said. “And Zach is a guy who’s going to get up off the mat and keep fighting. He knows that he didn’t play to the best of his ability the past couple of weeks.
“But he was determined, and each week got better and continued to lead this team the way that he did. Just really impressed with him. And his character showed.”
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