SHREVEPORT, La. — Welcome to the Heisman Trophy race, Johnny Manziel.
The Texas A&M quarterback made SEC history Saturday night, but things weren’t easy for the Aggies.
Manziel accounted for 576 total yards — the third-highest total in NCAA history for a freshman — and six touchdowns as No. 22 Texas A&M held off a stunning rally from previously undefeated No. 23 Louisiana Tech for a 59-57 victory at Independence Stadium.
“If you’re a fan, I don’t know how you can see a better football game,” Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes said. “With what their quarterback did, that was a special performance.”
Manziel became the first player in SEC history with two 500-yard plus total-yardage games in a season, as he previously had 557 against Arkansas. On Saturday, he threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns and added 181 rushing yards and three touchdowns as the Aggies (5-1) built two 27-point leads and a 26-point lead in the first half.
However, the Bulldogs (5-1) rallied to cut the lead to just two twice in the final quarter.
Down 15 with 2:04 remaining, Louisiana Tech scored two touchdowns in 86 seconds, but it missed its second chance to tie the game in the final quarter when quarterback Colby Cameron overthrew R.P. Stuart in the corner of the end zone on a two-point-conversion attempt with 38.1 seconds left. The Aggies recovered the ensuing onside kick.
“I just didn’t make a good pass; it’s on me,” Cameron said. “I had to give R.P. a chance to compete for the ball, and I didn’t.”
The Bulldogs pulled within two points with 11:59 left after defensive lineman Shakeil Lucas hauled in a 5-yard interception return. However, Texas A&M cornerback Dustin Harris picked off the two-point attempt.
Cameron completed 44 of 58 passes for 450 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. The senior now has 18 touchdown passes without an interception this season. Only Heisman candidate Geno Smith of West Virginia has more touchdowns without an interception (24-0).
The Aggies’ victory ends Louisiana Tech’s NCAA-best 12 game regular-season win streak. With a weak WAC schedule upcoming, Saturday was Tech’s opportunity to cement itself has a BCS contender. Despite the game effort, the shot at college football’s three magical letters are history.
“There are no moral victories — we came here to win,” Dykes said.
The loss overshadowed Quinton Patton’s impressive night. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Louisiana Tech senior hauled in school-record-tying 21 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns.
“I just try to stay calm, stay humble at what I was doing out there,” Patton said. “I was just trying to play my part.”
The Aggies host another ranked Louisiana opponent, No. 9 LSU (6-1), on Saturday at Kyle Field. Louisiana Tech opens WAC play by playing host to Idaho (1-6) on the same day.
“We’re doing what it takes to win games and not lose games,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We won, but we’ve got a lot of things to clean up.”
But this night belonged to Manziel, who was responsible for the Aggies’ final six scores of the game, including a 72-yard touchdown run to give Texas A&M a 59-44 lead with two minutes left.
Manziel now has 24 touchdowns (14 passing, 10 receiving) and 2,356 total yards (1,680 passing, 676 rushing) this season.
“He’s improving as a passer, and he’s continuing to be able to do things with his feet,” Sumlin said.
The game was lopsided early, as Texas A&M scored on all seven first-half possessions, rolled up 429 yards in the first half and built a 39-16 lead.
On Texas A&M’s first drive, two plays after a 24-yard pass from Manziel to Uzoma Nwachukwu on third-and-4, running back Christine Michael split the middle of Louisiana Tech’s defense for a 40-yard touchdown to give the Aggies a 7-0 lead.
The Aggies’ second drive was extended when Louisiana Tech defensive back Craig Johnson was called for a personal foul after a hit on intended receiver Ryan Swope.
The Aggies took full advantage of the opportunity when Manziel found LeKendrick Williams for a 20-yard touchdown to give Texas A&M a 14-0 lead.
Manziel scampered into the end zone from 15 yards out on third-and-5 to give the Aggies a 21-0 advantage with 2:17 left in the first quarter.
After seven straight third-down conversions to start the game, the Aggies began to misfire on third down in the second quarter. However, many of the Bulldogs’ stops came deep in their own territory.
A&M added three field goals (from 26, 54 and 28 yards) from Taylor Bertolet in the second quarter.
Louisiana Tech ended A&M’s run of points with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Cameron to Patton as the Bulldogs climbed within 27-7 with 5:32 left in the half.
However, the Aggies answered on the ensuing play with a 75-yard strike from Manziel to Mike Evans.
Although Tech struck again with a 6-yard touchdown by Kenneth Dixon, A&M blocked the extra point, and Dustin Harris returned the loose ball for two points. The teams traded field goals in the final minute of the half.
But things were far from over.
“We probably let off the gas a lot,” Aggies linebacker Jonathan Stewart said. “Guys were excited, and then they scored on that big play and we were back on our heels.”
Notes: The only two freshman to exceed Manziel’s 576 total yards in NCAA history were Nevada’s David Neill (582 in 1998) and Houston’s Kevin Kolb (578 in 2003). … Saturday was only the second time Shreveport hosted a matchup of two Top 25 teams. In 1993, the Independence Bowl, the city’s annual postseason game, featured a 45-20 victory by No. 22 Virginia Tech over No. 21 Indiana. … Louisiana Tech’s No. 23 AP ranking entering Saturday’s game was the highest in school history. The Bulldogs were ranked (No. 25) for one week prior to their 1999 regular-season finale at USC. They lost 45-19 and hadn’t been ranked since.