Duke football falls to Texas A&M 52-48 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl
Clinging to a 48-45 lead, quarterback Anthony Boone looked to his right for freshman wide receiver Johnell Barnes. Texas A&M's Toney Hurd, Jr. intercepted Boone's pass and returned it 55 yards for the game's decisive touchdown with 3:33 to play.
"It's a bad decision on my part," Boone said. "I was supposed to check it if I didn't get a certain coverage, and I just went ahead and ran a play that I shouldn't have run."
On Duke's ensuing drive, Boone drove the Blue Devils down the field seeking to win the game with a touchdown, but he was intercepted again by linebacker Nate Askew to seal his team's fate. No. 20 Texas A&M defeated the No. 22 Blue Devils 52-48 at the Georgia Dome, keeping Duke's streak of 52 years without a bowl victory alive.
"One play never wins the game or loses the game. It's a team effort. We're a family," redshirt senior cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "We love Boone, just like we love every other teammate that we have. Boone is a great quarterback and he's going to continue to be a great quarterback."
Duke's biggest question leading into the Chick-fil-A Bowl was whether or not it would be able to stop Manziel and the Aggies' prolific offense. But in the first half, it was the Blue Devil offense that put Texas A&M (9-4) on its heels. Duke (10-4) scored on each of its six offensive possessions in the first half and jumped out to a 38-17 lead heading into the locker room.
The Blue Devils played aggressively throughout the contest, utilizing a surprise onside kick late in the second quarter to pad the team's lead before halftime. Head coach David Cutcliffe rolled the dice once again on the first drive of the second half, but Texas A&M snuffed out an attempt on fourth-and-1 to keep Duke from putting the game out of reach and swing momentum back in the Aggies' favor.
"It was big," redshirt junior running back Josh Snead said. "Johnny Manziel, he runs that offense really well, and we knew we had to try and keep him off the field. With us not executing, it gave them the ball back, and he was able to capitalize."
Quarterback Johnny Manziel came alive in the second half, as the reigning Heisman Trophy Winner led Texas A&M back into the contest. After falling behind 21-3 early in the second quarter, Manziel led the Aggies on six consecutive touchdown drives, allowing his team to seize back momentum.
A 3-yard run by Manziel trimmed Duke's 21-point halftime advantage to just three, rallying the raucous Texas A&M crowd at the Georgia Dome.
But Boone would not be denied, leading Duke on a drive that went 75 yards in 14 plays and took 6:02 off the clock. The Blue Devils got some breathing room when Boone hit tight end David Reeves down the right side of the field and the redshirt sophomore tiptoed his way 20 yards down the sideline and into the end zone. Entering the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Reeves had caught just two passes all season.
Manziel responded 1:02 later with a 44-yard bomb to wide receiver Derel Walker for his fourth touchdown pass of the day to trim the deficit back to 48-45. Playing in what could be his final collegiate game, Manziel put on a show in the second half, dodging and weaving through Duke's defense to extend plays and will the struggling Aggies back into the contest.
"He's an explosive player. There's a reason he won the Heisman, and he proved that tonight," Cockrell said. "He continued to make plays for them, whether on the feet or in the air. I give him his props—he's going to be a great player if he decides to go to the next level."
Boone finished 29-of-45 for 427 yards and three touchdowns on the evening, but his two interceptions were what stuck with the redshirt junior quarterback after the game.
"We were clicking on all cylinders in every area," Boone said. "It was just a very unfortunate play on my behalf that caused two big turnovers and cost us the game."
Manziel praised Duke's toughness following a game where few gave the Blue Devils a chance to even compete with the Aggies.
"I think that team plays with more heart than anybody in the entire country," Manziel said. "Those guys they have on their team, they play for Coach Cutcliffe, play for their coaches and their fans and their university harder than anybody in the country. It was unreal to see how much fire, how much passion, how much energy they brought into that game. It’s a real credit to them how they played today. It was pretty darn good."
Despite the strides Duke made in 2013, the Blue Devils will have to wait until next year to earn its first bowl victory since 1961.
"We're Duke men with character," Snead said. "We're going to get through this and go back to work starting January 8th."