ATLANTA — All season, Duke coach David Cutcliffe talked about the pain that came from losing the 2012 Belk Bowl, from blowing a 16-point lead and giving up 14 points during the final 80 seconds.
This time, the Blue Devils found an even more painful way to lose.
No. 22 Duke blew a 21-point halftime lead, Anthony Boone threw interceptions on the final two drives, and No. 20 Texas A&M won 52-48 Tuesday night in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
There were two starting quarterbacks, naturally. One was flanked by cameras the second he stepped onto the field, with an ESPN camera crew employee yelling, We need more! as his cameraman scurried out to collect more up-close footage of one Johnny Manziel.
The other quarterback, Anthony Boone, had spent more than a few minutes walking around the field before warmups, in black gym shorts and oversized headphones with no cameras in sight.
Both Manziel and Boone put on a worthy New Years Eve show, with both teams putting up more than 500 yards of offense. But in a game dominated by offense, it was two defensive plays that made the difference.
The first interception came from Texas A&M defensive back Toney Hurd, and that was returned 55 yards for a touchdown. Ultimately, that was the winning touchdown,
I just asked him, Where were your eyes? Duke coach David Cutcliffe said about his conversation with Boone. He was trying to deal with, they had an extra guy robbing in coverage underneath, I think he caught his eyes too long.
The Nate Askew interception at the Texas A&M 43 with 1 minute, 19 seconds left sealed it.
Other than those two all-too-important defensive moments, the game was all about offense.
The first half was all Boone and Co., and, until there was 6:46 left in the game, the second half belonged to Manziel.
With the Aggies (9-4) holding all of the momentum, scoring touchdowns on all three of their second-half drives to cut the Duke lead to 41-38, the Blue Devils (10-4) engineered a 14-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:02. The drive featured four third-down conversions and ended with a 21-yard pass to David Reeves, who came oh so close to stepping on the right sideline, but he did not plant his left heel and danced down the line for the score that put Duke in front 48-38.
The Aggies werent done Manziel responded three plays later with a 44-yard pass to Derel Walker to cut the deficit to 48-45. That was the final offensive score, with the Texas A&M defense taking it from there.
Effective might be downplaying the offensive performance of the Blue Devils during the first half when they averaged 10.1 yards per play. They lined up Jamison Crowder in the slot, where he proved impossible to cover, as he caught six passes for 114 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown. That catch was his 100th of the season, making him the first ACC player to the century mark.
Duke scored touchdowns on its first five drives, and only the clock prevented a sixth, which ended with an 18-yard Ross Martin field goal to send the Blue Devils into the half with a 38-17 advantage.
That sixth drive was the result of an onside kick that caught Texas A&M completely off guard, as Juwan Thompson had plenty of time and space to corral the ball, letting Duke maintain possession for the final 2:28 of the half.
With the Blue Devils receiving the ball to start the second half, it felt like the Aggies were on the brink of letting the game slip away. But the exact opposite happened, as Texas A&M seized the momentum, scoring touchdowns on its first four possession of the half, five with the interception return.
The Aggies opened their second-half scoring with a play for the ages, as Manziel reminded everyone why he is the most dynamic playmaker in college football.
From the Duke 19, Manziel took the snap in the shotgun and started forward, but he ran into his left guard, Jarvis Harrison, which knocked him back into a scrum of Duke players. Linebacker Kelby Brown had fallen and tried an ankle tackle, but he was blocking Carlos Wray and a few other Duke defenders from closing in. Somehow, Manziel escaped the pile on his feet and found Travis Labhart on the left side of the end zone for the 9-yard score.
It was supposed to be a play-action bubble pass, Manziel said, and the designated receiver told him he had been open. Manziel, though, didnt see him and instead went into ad-lib mode.
I guess the way things go with me I like to make it a little harder, he said with a smile.
The Aggies kept rolling, as Dukes once-unstoppable offense produced just one field goal in three drives. Texas A&M matched those with touchdowns, and, finally, defense.
DSnead 11 pass from Boone (Martin kick), 8:50. A&MFG Lambo 45, 5:31. DConnette 3 run (Martin kick), 4:12.
DukeBoone 11 run (Martin kick), 14:21. TAMLabhart 23 pass from Manziel (Lambo kick), 13:04. DukeCrowder 59 pass from Boone (Martin kick), 11:49. TAMLabhart 9 pass from Manziel (Lambo kick), 6:45. DukeSnead 25 run (Martin kick), 2:31. DukeFG Martin 18, :00.
TAMLabhart 19 pass from Manziel (Lambo kick), 9:55. TAMCarson 21 run (Lambo kick), 5:05. DukeFG Martin 20, :43.
TAMManziel 3 run (Lambo kick), 12:48. DukeReeves 21 pass from Boone (Martin kick), 6:46. TAMD.Walker 44 pass from Manziel (Lambo kick), 5:44. TAMHurd Jr. 55 interception return (Lambo kick), 3:33.
|Time of Possession||35:02||24:58|
RUSHINGDuke, Snead 17-104, Thompson 11-92, Boone 5-27, Powell 2-7, Connette 2-4. Texas A&M, Manziel 11-73, Malena 8-45, T.Williams 4-23, Carson 4-21, Team 3-(minus 3).
PASSINGDuke, Boone 29-45-2-427. Texas A&M, Manziel 30-38-0-382.
RECEIVINGDuke, Crowder 12-163, Deaver 6-116, Snead 3-21, Braxton 3-17, Barnes 2-48, Blakeney 1-23, Reeves 1-21, Thompson 1-18. Texas A&M, Labhart 7-76, D.Walker 6-113, Kennedy 5-52, Evans 4-72, Gonzalez 3-18, Clear 2-38, Malena 1-6, J.Williams 1-6, T.Williams 1-1.