TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Texas A&M's fabled Wrecking Crew surfaced Saturday at the perfect time, wrecking Alabama's chances at a second straight national championship.
A&M's defense came up with a pair of turnovers that led to touchdowns, then the unit topped it off with a goal-line stand to seal the 29-24 victory over the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
Many already are calling it one of the biggest victories in school history. How big will be debated since A&M didn't win a championship or even earn the right to play for one Saturday, but there's no debating that A&M had the best quarterback and the best defense on the field.
By outplaying Alabama's AJ McCarron in the battle of quarterbacks, A&M's Johnny Manziel earned himself an invitation to New York on Dec. 8 as one of the finalists for the Heisman Trophy.
Manziel dazzled in his first trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium, accounting for 345 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt freshman showed remarkable poise in the biggest game of his life -- and in one of college football's toughest environments. He got rattled on a few plays, and Alabama sacked him sacked four times. But the magic man just a year and a half removed from Kerrville Tivy didn't have a turnover, and with the game on the line, his steadiness under pressure led the Aggies on back-to-back scoring drives.
It's hard not to get mesmerized by Johnny Football and Manziel Magic, but he doesn't win this one if his defense doesn't squelch McCarron's Heisman chances for at least this season.
McCarron had a shot with time running out to one-up Johnny Football, but three times the Aggie defense denied the Tide's veteran QB after McCarron hit a huge 54-yard pass to Kenny Bell that drove Alabama to A&M's 6-yard line.
The partisan crowd of 101,821 roared its loudest, but A&M's defense did all the talking.
A&M linebacker Sean Porter and defensive lineman Kirby Ennis stopped McCarron for no gain on first down. Two plays later, McCarron scrambled free and seemed to have a lane to the end zone, but A&M cornerback Dustin Harris shut him down. The 175-pound Harris, not known for his physicality, stopped the 210-pound McCarron cold at the 2 after a 3-yard gain -- not just tackling McCarron but keeping the Tide QB from spinning free or wriggling close enough to the goal line that Alabama could've run on fourth down.
Instead, McCarron rolled out on fourth down and threw in the flat to Bell, who had been in motion. A&M sophomore Deshazor Everett read the play and cut in front to make the interception with 96 seconds left for Alabama's third turnover.
And its first loss in 2012.
A&M had forced just one turnover in its previous four games, but the three the Aggies got Saturday could've been even more. A&M safety Howard Matthews came within a whisker of picking off McCarron midway through the fourth quarter. Officials reviewed the play and ruled that Matthews had barely come down on the out-of-bounds line.
McCarron recovered from that horrible throw for a 54-yard touchdown pass two plays later, pulling Alabama within 29-24. Then after Manziel netted no yards in three plays, McCarron threw the 54-yarder to Bell to the A&M 6.
Opportunity was knocking. Last week, McCarron drove Alabama 72 yards in five plays during the closing seconds for a 21-17 victory at LSU.
This time at home, he couldn't lead Alabama 6 yards in four plays.
What a time for the Wrecking Crew to surface.
Robert Cessna's email address is email@example.com