Bielema: Way Hogs lose to Aggies ‘unbelievable’

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Sunday, September 24, 2017
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, left, waits for players to leave the field following a 50-43 overtime loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Arlington, Texas.
Photo by Benjamin Krain
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, left, waits for players to leave the field following a 50-43 overtime loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Arlington, Texas.

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Arkansas Razorbacks turned in a new script for the Southwest Classic Shootout on Saturday, but another overtime against Texas A&M led to the same bitter ending.

Another agonizing loss for the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Texas A&M (3-1, 1-0 SEC) rallied for a tying field goal with four seconds remaining, then beat the Razorbacks 50-43 in overtime before a crowd of 64,668 at AT&T Stadium in the SEC opener for both teams.

Game sketch

STARS Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk had a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown, 2 touchdown catches and 246 all-purpose yards. Kellen Mond passed for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 109 yards for the Aggies.

TURNING POINT The game was decided on the final play in overtime, Texas A&M safety Armani Watts’ diving interception in the end zone on third down.

KEY STATS Texas A&M went 2 of 2 on fourth-down conversions, outgained the Hogs 501-457 in total offense and had 4 plays of 44 yards or longer.

Up next: vs. New Mexico State, 11 a.m. Saturday, Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville (SEC Network)

The Aggies beat Arkansas (1-2, 0-1) for the sixth consecutive year, tying a school record originally accomplished from 1938-1943. Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin improved to 6-0 against the Hogs, while Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema fell to 0-5 in the series. Three of the past four losses have come in overtime in games the Razorbacks led in the fourth quarter.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bielema said. “It’s just gut wrenching. We say a prayer before and after every game, and I know we’re getting tested in some tough ways.”

Bielema continued as he began to choke up.

“It’s hard because we put a lot into it, and my kids put a lot into it,” he said. “You get a lot of negativity, and I wish I could do something for them. I know this: We’re going to be all right. The kids are resilient as hell. Nobody is looking around pointing fingers. It’ll be fun when we get there.”

Sumlin, who endured considerable criticism after the Aggies blew a 44-10 lead at UCLA in the season opener, won for the third game in a row since that 45-44 loss.

“You know, it’s a close game that we were able to win,” Sumlin said. “It’s a tough one. Somebody’s got to win those games.”

Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen, who was 12 of 25 for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns, directed two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter with the Razorbacks trailing. But Texas A&M’s Armani Watts made a diving interception of Allen in the back of the end zone on a third-down play from the 12 in overtime to clinch the victory.

The Hogs and Aggies traded the lead six times in a second half loaded with big plays.

“Heartbreaking is the only word,” Allen said. “We’re right there. We fought back in the fourth quarter, and I thought we played hard the whole game.

“We had it in our hands. Had it right there and didn’t capitalize and didn’t finish.”

Texas A&M’s first-half scores came on Christian Kirk’s 81-yard catch and run on a wide-open intermediate pass; a field goal that followed freshman quarterback Kellen Mond’s 79-yard run; and Trayveon Williams’ 18-yard run that came after Mond’s 50-yard pass to Damion Ratley.

Mond rushed for 109 yards, and Keith Ford added 102 yards and 2 touchdowns as part of Texas A&M’s 285-yard rushing attack.

Arkansas tailback David Williams rushed for 68 yards and 2 touchdowns and caught 2 passes for 28 yards and another score. His 4-yard touchdown run capped a 75-yard drive and gave Arkansas a 43-40 lead with 3:39 remaining.

On the kickoff, the Aggies’ Cullen Gillaspia returned a sky kick 14 yards to the Arkansas 49, and Kellen Mond led a drive that resulted in Daniel LaCamera’s 27-yard field goal with four seconds remaining.

“It was a crazy game,” Williams said. “I’ve never been a part of nothing like that.”

Bielema said Williams started and played more snaps than two-game starter Devwah Whaley, who had six carries for 38 yards, because Whaley has been nursing a sore ankle and not due to his locker room scuffle with receiver Brandon Martin last week.

Texas A&M’s Kirk continued to bedevil the Razorbacks. The speedy junior returned a kickoff 100 yards to put the Aggies ahead 40-36 in the topsy-turvy fourth quarter. It was A&M’s first kickoff return for a touchdown in seven years, the first in the Southwest Classic, and it came after Texas A&M assistant Jeff Banks made an in-game adjustment.

“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,” Kirk said. “All I had to do was just hit the hole and go.”

Kirk caught the game-winning touchdown pass, a 10-yard grab from Mond, to cap his day with 246 all-purpose yards and 3 touchdowns.

Kirk’s touchdown in overtime came after a pass interference call on freshman cornerback Kamren Curl on third and 8 from the Arkansas 23. Mond’s pass skidded incomplete several yards short of receiver Jhamon Ausbon and Curl, but the Arkansas defensive back was flagged for having a piece of Ausbon’s jersey.

“That’s a really good crew,” Bielema said. “But there’s always going to be plays that we see differently than they do. The only thing you just hate is the timing of it at the end of the game and the effect it ultimately had on the game is pretty significant.”

Arkansas, which had been struggling to score touchdowns in the red zone and in the second halves against Power 5 opponents, unveiled some wrinkles that helped flush those problems. Among the new looks, 6-7 freshman quarterback Cole Kelley converted four short-yardage plays on shotgun snaps, and freshman tailback Chase Hayden made several nice gains while taking direct snaps.

Freshman Jordan Jones turned a pair of jet sweeps into 50 rushing yards to also spark the offense.


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