ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kevin Sumlin took the ball out of his freshman quarterback's hands to extend the game. Then he gave it back so the Aggies could go win it.
For the third time in four years, Texas A&M needed overtime to beat Arkansas, but Sumlin stayed undefeated in six games against the Razorbacks with a 50-43 win on Saturday afternoon.
"It's unbelievable," Arkansas coach Bret 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."
An audience of just 64,688 came to see the Hot Seat Bowl at AT&T Stadium between Sumlin and Bielema, and a barnburner broke out. In a game that featured 93 points, a defensive play decided the outcome. Armani Watts' interception in the end zone to end the first overtime set off a party in the end zone.
"I just saw the ball, so I attacked it," Watts said.
Watts' teammates mobbed him, and minutes later, he had one final task to complete: Slam dunking the ball in A&M's beat-up, maroon turnover trashcan. He did, to the delight of his teammates.
Across the field, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema waited for his last player to leave the field while Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones waited for Kevin Sumlin to finish an interview before presenting him -- once again -- with a Southwest Classic trophy.
The trophy might not mean much, but for now it means Texas A&M is 3-1 overall and 1-0 in SEC play.
"You don't win games on one side," Sumlin said. "That was a team win."
It only happened after Sumlin leaned on the running game on the final drive of regulation. He trailed by three, and he trusted his kicker and running back duo of Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams more than he trusted his freshman quarterback, Kellen Mond, playing because starter Nick Starkel underwent ankle surgery after the season-opening loss to UCLA.
"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."
In overtime, 10 yards away from a lead, Sumlin put the ball back in the freshman's hands. Mond made eye contact with star receiver Christian Kirk and found him for a go-ahead touchdown on a corner route nearly identical to one he threw a week earlier against Louisiana-Lafayette.
"That was probably his best throw he's made this year," Sumlin said.
The Aggies managed to shake off a blown call in the first half when officials ruled Mond out of bounds on what should have been an 89-yard touchdown run. Before the game had even ended, the SEC had already admitted the officiating error.
"It's hard to miss it on that big old screen that's above your head," Sumlin said. "By the way, every time we're here, my neck hurts like crazy the next day. It looks great in the stands, but, on the field, it's pretty hard."
This absolutely should have been a Kellen Mond TD, but the play was blown dead at the 10. Not even close to out of bounds. pic.twitter.com/VBBJzuDX1z— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 23, 2017
Team wins happen when A&M contributes to six second-half lead changes with an electrifying 100-yard touchdown return from Kirk, giving the Aggies a 40-36 lead with just over five minutes to play. It was the Aggies' first since Coryell Judie in a win over Baylor on Nov. 12, 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," Kirk said. "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."
They happen when the defense harasses Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen for six sacks.
"We were in the film room watching the O-line and their tendencies and what they do well and what they don't do well," defensive lineman Landis Durham said. "I think we did a good job across the board, DTs and D-ends, getting a lot of pressure today and helping out our DBs."
And they happen when an experienced defensive back, Watts, finishes the game to help the Aggies do what they can to distance themselves from a disastrous 34-point blown lead in the season opener at UCLA.
The Aggies are young. They are flawed. But for now, in the SEC, they are 1-0.