ARLINGTON _ The first wave of celebratory “SEC! SEC!” chants began in the third quarter, long before No. 9 Texas A&M killed the waning seconds to put an exclamation point on a season marked by memorable moments.
But make no mistake: The Aggies took No. 11 Oklahoma out of the contest tonight and paved their way to a 41-13 triumph in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic with a third-quarter salvo that included a game-turning, 20-0 stretch in which A&M dictated play in Cowboys Stadium.
The Aggies (11-2) capped their surge with a 33-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass from quarterback Johnny Manziel to receiver Ryan Swope that underscored the game’s decisive momentum swing in front of an announced crowd of 87,025, second-largest in the history of the post-season contest.
The Aggies, who broke a six-game losing streak in the Cotton Bowl and won for the first time in four career appearances at Cowboys Stadium, outgained Oklahoma (10-3) by a 268-63 margin in total yards in the third quarter. A&M punctuated its first season as an SEC member by taking down the Big 12 co-champion in a bowl game during the same season that the school won its first Heisman Trophy in 55 years (Manziel) and earned its first-ever Outland Trophy (left tackle Luke Joeckel, an Arlington High School graduate).
For A&M, the triumph validated last year’s decision to leave the Big 12 in favor of the SEC and allowed the Aggies to defeat the Sooners for only the second time in the teams’ last 10 meetings. SEC teams have now won the last five Cotton Bowls, as well as nine of the last 10, in their annual matchups against Big 12 foes.
Behind the elusive running of Manziel, who set a Cotton Bowl and FBS bowl record for rushing yards by a quarterback (229), the Aggies became the first team in school or SEC history to top the 7,000-yard mark in total offense. A&M finished the season with 7,261 yards and set a Cotton Bowl record with 633 yards against OU, breaking the mark of 578 set by Southern California in a 55-14 rout of Texas Tech in 1995.
Manziel, a redshirt freshman, finished with 516 yards of total offense (229 rushing, 287 passing) and accounted for four touchdowns: two rushing and two passing.
“This is the first team to win 11 games in a long time at Texas A&M,” said Aggies’ coach Kevin Sumlin, adding that Manziel “did get better” as the contest and the season unfolded. “You can put those numbers up against anybody.”
The Aggies, who last won 11 games during the 1998 season _ when the school won its lone Big 12 championship _ broke open a 14-13 contest in which the Sooners were not forced to punt in the first half by dominating both lines of scrimmage in the third quarter.
Oklahoma began the second half with three consecutive three-and-out possessions. A&M countered with Manziel-led scoring drives of 91, 89 and 71 yards.
On the first touchdown march, Manziel completed three consecutive passes, covering a combined 61 yards, before Ben Malena capped the seven-play journey with a 7-yard burst on an option play. Manziel went 5-for-5 as a passer on the Aggies’ next TD drive, which ended with Trey Williams’ 30-yard scoring sprint, and capped the Aggies’ 71-yard scoring march with a 33-yard strike to Swope on a fourth-and-5 play.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, who threw for 175 yards and completed 23 passes in the first half, struggled to find the range after intermission as the Sooners lost for the sixth time in their last 10 bowl appearances.
A game projected to be one of the most entertaining matchups of the post-season did not disappoint in the first half. The two teams combined for 507 yards and 27 points, with A&M taking a 14-13 lead into intermission.
As has been their custom, the Aggies struck quickly. Manziel capped the game’s first possession with a 23-yard touchdown scramble, assuring that A&M scored first in every game it played during the 2012 season.
Oklahoma answered with a pair of time-consuming drives for field goals on its first two possessions _ one covering 16 plays, the other 18 _ and added a 13-play touchdown march in the second quarter. But the Aggies broke open the contest in the second half on a night when Manziel’s 5-yard scoring run in the second quarter gave him his 20th rushing TD of the season and made him the fourth player in FBS history to rush and pass for at least 20 touchdowns in the same season.
Manziel joined current NFL quarterbacks Tim Tebow, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton on the elite list. And A&M capped a breakthrough debut season in the SEC with a decisive victory in the Cotton Bowl.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called Manziel one of the most challenging quarterbacks he’s ever tried to defense in his coaching career.
“Absolutely,” Stoops said. “Not only what he does with his feet, but he way he throws the football. He’s awfully hard to handle.”
_ Jimmy Burch