Johnny Manziel, better known around Texas as Johnny Football, staked the 15th-ranked Aggies to a three-touchdown lead in the first quarter, and Texas A&M held on to beat the Crimson Tide 29-24 on Saturday.
The Aggies (8-2, 5-2), playing in the SEC for the first season after ditching the Big 12, also might have ended the league’s run of BCS titles at six years.
The defending national champion Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1), who have been No. 1 almost all season, didn’t go quietly.
AJ McCarron nearly pulled off a second straight scintillating comeback. He threw one touchdown pass and motored the ball downfield before Deshazor Everett stepped in front of his fourth-down pass at the goal line with 1:36 left.
Manziel passed for 253 yards and rushed for 92 and led the Aggies to a 20-0 first quarter lead.
“No moment is too big for him,” coach Kevin Sumlin said of his remarkable redshirt freshman.
The Aggies had been 1-10 against top-ranked teams with the only previous win coming 30-26 over Oklahoma in 2002, but Manziel and Sumlin have entered the SEC with speed and swagger — and fit right in.
Alabama managed a second-shot national title after losing to LSU just over a year ago in the regular season but seems a longshot to do it again. Alabama would have secured a spot in the SEC championship game with a victory and only Western Carolina and Auburn remaining.
“Two of the three national championship teams that I coached lost a game,” Tide coach Nick Saban said, counting one at LSU. “This team still has an opportunity to win the West and go to the SEC championship game and win a championship. There’s still a lot for this team to play for.”
Now, the Tide will have to beat the Tigers to clinch the West and get into the SEC title game. As for the national title, Alabama will have to hope for another shakeup in the form of losses by Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame. If the Tide wins out, and two of those teams go down, a third national championship in four seasons is still in play — along with a seventh straight for the SEC.
For now though, the SEC is on the outside looking in at the BCS title race.
Alabama kept coming back, but never caught up with Manziel and Texas A&M.
The nation’s top scoring defense, forced a punt with less than a minute left, but A&M never had to kick it away. The Tide was penalized for offsides, giving Texas A&M a first down and a chance to kneel out the clock.
McCarron breathed life into Alabama with a 54-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to freshman Amari Cooper to make it 29-24 with 4:29 left.
A quick three-and-out by the Aggies put the ball in McCarron’s hands again. He opened at the 40 with a 54-yarder to speedster Kenny Bell down to the 6. Two scrambles and an Eddy Lacy run left one final shot from the 2 against a Texas A&M defense often overshadowed by its potent offense.
He had some time on third down, rolling left but finding Lacy well covered and having to try running it, a la Manziel, before Dustin Harris stopped him at the 2.
McCarron had rescued the Tide’s national title hopes with a 28-yard screen pass in the final minute for a 21-17 win over No. 9 LSU. The Aggies, nearly two-touchdown underdogs, didn’t let him do it again. Everett made the play on a pass toward the front corner of the end zone.
McCarron completed 21 of 34 passes for 309 yard but also was intercepted twice, ending his streak without getting picked off at 291 passes.
Eddie Lacy had 16 carries for 92 yards for Auburn and added 35 yards on four catches. Cooper had six catches for 136 yards a week after missing much the second half of the LSU game with an ankle injury, and failing to make a reception.
The Aggies had already lost to top-10 teams LSU and Florida by a combined eight points, proving they’re already challengers in the powerhouse SEC.
Manziel completed 24 of 31 passes with two touchdowns and ran 18 times, including four sacks.
He kept finding Ryan Swope. They hooked up 11 times for 111 yards and a 10-yard touchdown where Manziel bobbled the ball as defenders swarmed him, reversed field and spotted Swope alone in the back of the end zone.
Manziel led three first-quarter touchdown drives for a 20-0 lead to stun the Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd of 101,821. Christine Michael had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs in the quarter along with Swope’s catch.
The rest of the game was an emotional roller-coaster ride for fans who might have thought LSU was the toughest test on the road to another championship.
Then Alabama flexed its own muscle to counter Manziel’s speed, sticking with power runs to set up 2-yard touchdown runs by T.J. Yeldon and Lacy.
McCarron also converted a fourth-and-4 with a pass to Lacy to set up the first score. Alabama marched back down the field after C.J. Mosley pushed Manziel out of bounds a yard shy on fourth-and-6.
The Tide ran out all but 19 seconds with a methodical drive right back into the game.
It was still the first time Alabama had trailed at halftime since a loss at South Carolina in 2010.
Jeremy Shelley kicked a 28-yard field goal with 4:49 in the third quarter to cut it to 20-17 and Taylor Bertolet answered with a short one to start the fourth.
Missouri 51, Tennessee 48
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Andrew Baggett kicked a 35-yard field goal in the fourth overtime period Saturday as Missouri rallied from a two-touchdown halftime deficit to beat Tennessee 51-48 at Neyland Stadium.
Missouri forced overtime when James Franklin threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Dorial Green-Beckham on a fourth-and-12 play with 47 seconds remaining.
Each team scored touchdowns on its first two overtime possessions, including a 5-yard run by Tennessee holder Tyler Drummer on a fake field-goal attempt. Each team reached the end zone again in the third overtime but failed to make its ensuing two-point conversion attempt.
Missouri’s defense finally came through in the fourth overtime when safety Ian Simon broke up a fourth-and-3 pass to Zach Rogers from the Missouri 18.
Tyler Bray threw for 404 yards and four touchdowns for Tennessee (4-6, 0-6). Franklin threw four touchdown passes and Kendial Lawrence ran for two scores for Missouri (5-5, 2-5).
No. 12 South Carolina 38, Arkansas 20
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Connor Shaw threw for two touchdowns and ran for another score as No. 12 South Carolina beat Arkansas 38-20 on Saturday.
Shaw was 15-of-23 for 279 yards for the Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference), who finished with six league wins for only the second time in 20 years in the SEC.
Arkansas (4-6, 2-4) will now have to beat both Mississippi State and LSU to make a bowl game after starting the season No. 10 in the country.
It was only the second win over the Razorbacks in the last seven games for the Gamecocks and it broke a three-game losing streak during which the Hogs embarrassed South Carolina by double-digits.
No. 7 Florida 27, La. Lafayette 20
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jelani Jenkins returned a blocked punt 36 yards for a touchdown with 2 seconds remaining and No. 7 Florida rallied in the closing minutes to beat Louisiana-Lafayette 27-20 on Saturday.
The Gators (9-1) scored twice in the final 2 minutes to avoid the biggest upset in school history.
Florida did little on offense most of the day and looked to be in serious trouble when quarterback Jeff Driskel left the game with an ankle injury.
The Rajin’ Cajuns (5-4) led 20-13 after Alonzo Harris’ 2-yard run and a blocked punt for a touchdown.
But Jacoby Brissett rallied the Gators. Brissett found Jordan Reed down the middle for a 39-yard gain and then hit Quinton Dunbar for 3-yard score with 1:42 remaining.
ULL was content to play for overtime.
But Loucheiz Purifoy came off the edge and got his right hand on the punt. Jenkins picked up the deflection and went untouched the other way.
No. 9 LSU 37, No. 23 Mississippi St. 17
BATON ROUGE, La. — Zach Mettenberger passed for 273 yards and two touchdowns, and ninth-ranked LSU kept alive faint hope of a Southeastern Conference title with a 37-17 victory over No. 23 Mississippi State on Saturday night.
Looking sharp a second straight week, Mettenberger completed 19 of 30 passes without an interception. His top target was Jarvis Landry, who had nine catches for 109 yards — both career highs — including a 19-yard touchdown to help the Tigers (8-2, 4-2 SEC) beat the Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3) for the 13th straight time.
Mettenberger’s other scoring pass went to Spencer Ware, fullback J.C. Copeland scored on a 1-yard plunge and Craig Loston returned an interception 100 yards for a score.
Tyler Russell was 26 of 38 for 295 yards and a touchdown that got the Bulldogs as close as field goal in the third quarter before they faded in their third straight loss to a ranked team.
Vanderbilt 27, Mississippi 26
OXFORD, Miss. — Jordan Rodgers hit Chris Boyd for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 52 seconds remaining and Vanderbilt rallied for a 27-26 victory over Mississippi on Saturday night.
The Commodores (6-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) are now bowl eligible for the second straight season for the first time in school history.
Vanderbilt trailed 23-6 early in the third quarter, but Rodgers found Jordan Matthews for a 52-yard touchdown minutes later to start the Commodores rally.
Rodgers completed 20 of 35 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Matthews caught nine passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4) must beat either LSU or Mississippi State over the final two weeks to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2009.
Bo Wallace threw for 403 yards and a touchdown. Bryson Rose kicked four field goals.
Vanderbilt has won six out of eight games against Ole Miss.