ARLINGTON, TX. -- If Texas A&M and Arkansas are playing at AT&T Stadium, you can expect two things: overtime and insanity. A&M's 50-43 win Saturday fit both categories.
What didn't this one have? A targeting ejection? Check. A 265-backup quarterback barreling ahead for first downs? Got it. A true freshman quarterback being gypped out of a 90-yard touchdown by unbelievably bad call by a side judge? Check. Six lead changes in the fourth quarter? Yup.
And, as usual, the Aggies came through in the clutch to beat the Razorbacks. A&M (3-1, 1-0 SEC) has won six in a row over Arkansas (1-2, 0-1 SEC), matching the program's largest winning streak in the history of the series.
Six in a row didn't seem probable early on, as the Razorbacks marched down the field on their opening drive that ended with a 6-yard TD pass from Austin Allen (13-27, 231 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) to Jared Cornelius. The Aggies came right back, as Christian Kirk scored on an 81-yard touchdown pass from Kellen Mond (14-27, 216 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT; 10 carries, 109 yards) -- the second time in three games against Arkansas that he has scored on a long touchdown pass on A&M's second possession.
From there, things went south for the Aggies, as Arkansas scored on an 11-play, 82-yard drive to take a 14-7 lead, then extended it to two touchdowns after A&M put in four true freshmen offensive linemen to protect Mond when the Aggies were backed up inside their 10-yard-line. An interception followed and Arkansas RB Chase Hayden cashed in with a 6-yard score two plays later.
Being down two touchdowns in this series is commonplace for the Aggies, and they didn't flinch today. Instead, Mond pulled the ball back on a run-pass option and took off for what appeared to be a 90-yard touchdown run, but a horrible call by side judge Chris Conley gave A&M the ball at the Arkansas 11. The Aggies didn't get back into the end zone, but Daniel LaCamera was able to cut the lead to 21-10.
After forcing Arkansas to punt, the Aggie offense put together an 82-yard drive of their own, capped off by Trayveon Williams' 18-yard run.
And things were just getting warmed up.
A&M took the lead after halftime on a 23-yard run by Keith Ford (14 carries, 102 yards), then promptly allowed Arkansas to take it back. Another LaCamera field goal got the Aggies back to within 28-27, then Ford struck again, this time from 44 yards away to give A&M the lead back.
At that point, the Aggie defense, which had sacked Allen seven times, stopped blitzing and went vanilla. And Allen, who had just 92 yards coming into the fourth quarter, went to work. He had Jonathan Nance, who beat double coverage right down the middle of the field, for a 44-yard touchdown pass and the Razorbacks were back on top, 36-33, with just 5:21 left.
Kirk wasn't impressed. He took the ensuing kickoff back 100 yards for the first Aggie kick return for a touchdown since Coryell Judie returned one against Baylor in 2010.
"Coach [Jeff] Banks is always emphasizing, 'We need to get one, we're going to hit one.' And we were close last weekend. He's able to see, you know, what they're running throughout the game. So he saw what their scheme was, he drew up a new return in the game, and the guys up front just went out there and executed. And all I had to do was just hit the hole and go," Kirk said.
Allen and Arkansas retaliated yet again, with RB David Williams scoring his third touchdown of the day with 3:39 to go to put them back on top. Instead of kicking to Kirk again, the Razorbacks kicked short -- then saw 12th Man Cullen Gillaspia run through several Arkansas defenders to take the ball back to the Razorbacks 49.
Mond, with the poise of an upperclassmen, moved A&M back down the field. Facing a 4th and 3 at the Arkansas 42 with game on the line, Mond calmly fired a 7-yard strike to Damion Ratley to keep the drive alive. The Aggies moved the ball inside the Arkansas 15, but instead of opting to take a potentially risky shot into the end zone with time running down, A&M coach Kevin Sumlin opted for a short field goal to send the game into overtime for the third time in four years.
"We felt good about where we were. And with the time on the clock, everything else, if it goes into overtime, it goes into overtime," Sumlin said. "We just don't want to lose our opportunity right here with a young guy. So we kind of took it out of his hands and ran it and kicked it."
As Arkansas began to have flashbacks of Malcome Kennedy dashing into the end zone and running plays that came up short, the Aggies were confident as they headed to extra time.
"It was all smiles in that huddle. It wasn't serious. We were all smiling and we knew that we had the confidence to go out there and win the game," Kirk said.
After picking up a first down on a pass interference penalty, another one of Arkansas' nightmares returned: Kirk, running a quick out and up, caught a pass in the same corner of the end zone -- on the same route -- that he scored on in overtime in 2015.
"The defender on me slipped inside, Kellen saw it, and, you know, it was just execution," Kirk said.
Arkansas had one last shot to tie the game and send it to a second overtime, but senior safety Armani Watts (8 tackles, 1 INT), dove for Allen's overthrown pass in the end zone and doomed the Razorbacks once again.
"Really, we worked on that play actually all week," Watts said. "And Tyrel [Dodson] was covering it well, but I just saw the ball, so I just attacked it."
While the Aggies celebrated in the end zone, Arkansas trudged off the field with a defeat in which they held the lead five different times.
"The guys are crushed, but obviously, three games into a season where we have got a lot of football in front of us, and if they can fight that way for four quarters and beyond for the rest of the year like that, they will be all right," said coach Bret Bielema, whose seat may now be hotter than Sumlin's.
On the other side, Sumlin praised the desire of his team and their fight after facing so many deficits and bizarre events.
"I'm proud of how these guys believe in each other and believe in the people in that room. And, because of that, because of their effort, and because of their belief in each other, really, nothing else matters," he said.
The Aggies ran for 285 yards on the day, with both Mond and Ford breaking the 100-yard mark.
Ford's 44-yard touchdown was the longest run of his Aggie career.
DE Landis Durham had the first multiple sack performance of his career Saturday, dumping Allen twice.
A&M had six total sacks, with Tyrel Dodson, Jarrett Johnson, Zaycoven Henderson and Otaro Alaka also getting to Allen.
Kirk's overtime touchdown puts him 4th on the all-time A&M touchdown receptions list with 20.
Kirk compiled 246 yards of total offense (110 receiving, 136 returning).
Daylon Mack had his first start in two years Saturday, in the place of Henderson.
Ryan McCollum made his first start at left guard.
Mond only completed passes to five receivers: Kirk (5), Jhamon Ausbon (5), Ratley (2), Roshauud Paul (1) and Trayveon Williams (1).
After giving up 11 sacks in the first three games of the year, the Aggie offensive line gave up only 1 Saturday.
After totaling 7 sacks in the first three games, the Aggies sacked Allen 6 times.
A&M had 501 yards of total offense and rushed for 6.8 YPC. Arkansas had 457 yards and averaged 5.0 YPC.