TUSCALOOSA | For a second straight week, the stage was set for the University of Alabama football to continue its BCS title run with some fourth-quarter magic. But this time, there was no rabbit in the hat, only the one on the other sideline.
Texas A&M, with a lightning-fast start and a wonderfully elusive freshman quarterback, Johnny Manziel, knocked Alabama on its heels in the first quarter and managed to hang on for a 29-24 win that once again leaves Alabama looking for help if its national championship dream is going to survive.
The Aggies scored touchdown on their first three possessions to take a 20-0 lead and Alabama could never catch up, although it came tantalizingly close, especially in a thrilling fourth quarter.
The Crimson Tide, down by five points after a 54-yard AJ McCarron touchdown pass to Amari Cooper, stopped the Aggies on three plays and took over with 4:27 left in the game, looking to replicate the kind of magical finish it had in Baton Rouge, La., a week before. That seemed to be Alabama's destiny when McCarron hit Kenny Bell for a 54-yard strike to the Aggie 6-yard line. But UA stalled there and on fourth-and-goal at the 2, McCarron - whose school record-setting streak of attempts without an interception had been broken at 292 earlier in the game - was picked off in the end zone by the Aggies' Deshazor Everett with 1:36 to play.
Alabama again appeared to have the Aggies stopped with 40 seconds remaining, but on a fourth-and-1, UA was flagged for an offside penalty. That gave Texas A&M a first down and a chance to run out the clock.
"We didn't play our best game today and we didn't execute the way that we needed to execute," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "We didn't play with the kind of discipline you need to play with, especially against their quarterback."
Manziel was 24 for 31 passing for 253 yards and ran for 92 more, keeping drive after drive alive with clutch plays, especially in the early going. He threw for one score and set up two more as the Aggies raced to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter. Alabama answered with second-quarter touchdowns from T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy and trailed 20-14 at the half.
The teams traded field goals, but a Yeldon fumble early in the fourth quarter stopped an Alabama drive and the Aggies went up 29-17 with a lightning two-play, 66-yard drive. Alabama cut the lead to five with Cooper's score but could get no closer.
McCarron finished with a career-high 309 passing yards but could not lift Alabama to a second straight come-from-behind win.
"We probably dug ourselves a ditch that we couldn't get out of," Saban said. "Everyone needs to commit themselves to playing a little better."
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.