Texas A&M, Aggies, Texas Bowl, Kellen Mond, NCAA college football

Mond’s late run lifts Aggies past Cowboys in Texas Bowl

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 12/28/19

HOUSTON — Until Friday, Kellen Mond had never owned a cowboy hat. But after throwing for 95 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 117 yards and another touchdown to lift Texas A&M to a 24-21 win over No. 25 Oklahoma State in the 13th Texas Bowl on Dec. 27, the junior quarterback earned a late Christmas present.

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Texas A&M, Aggies, Texas Bowl, Kellen Mond, NCAA college football

Mond’s late run lifts Aggies past Cowboys in Texas Bowl

Posted

HOUSTON — Until Friday, Kellen Mond had never owned a cowboy hat. But after throwing for 95 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 117 yards and another touchdown to lift Texas A&M to a 24-21 win over No. 25 Oklahoma State in the 13th Texas Bowl on Dec. 27, the junior quarterback earned a late Christmas present.

“I just need some boots now,” Mond cracked to reporters after the game, wearing the cowboy hat awarded to the bowl’s Most Valuable Player.

With a little less than 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mond kept the ball on an option play and raced 67 yards for the go-ahead touchdown to break a 14-all tie in front of a mostly-maroon-clad crowd of 68,415 at NRG Stadium.

“It was a speed option to the left,” Mond said. “The guy we were pitching to widened out and I was able to give a fake, stick my foot in the ground and get up the field. I made one guy miss and tried my best to get to the end zone.”

His best was enough.

Prior to the play, Mond had just 20 yards on 10 carries. But he kept the ball on this option play-call—after the Aggies had earned a first down on a Mond pitch to Ainias Smith earlier in the game—and put A&M ahead for good with 10:45 left.

Mond also had a 30-yard keeper on another option on the next series that set up a 24-yard field goal from former Katy High standout Seth Small.

In the first half, Mond completed 8 of 11 passes for 35 yards and fumbled twice while rushing five times for 12 yards. In the second half, however, he completed 5 of 8 passes for 60 yards and rushed for 105 yards on seven carries.

“I have to thank my teammates,” Mond said. “They were the ones who kept me up at halftime. I was frustrated with myself, having two turnovers and a missed throw to Ainias for a touchdown. Them keeping me up and Coach staying on me with positive encouragement, I was able to come out in the second half and lead us to a win.”

A&M coach Jimbo Fisher praised Mond’s play at the line of scrimmage. Most of the quarterback runs in the second half were checked into, Fisher said. They weren’t designed, but were changed to by Mond based on what he saw from the defense.

Fisher called Mond’s touchdown run a “big-time play in a big-time moment.”

“When you play quarterback, and a lot of times things don’t go your way perfectly, it’s easy to get frustrated,” Fisher said. “It’s a great sign of maturity when you don’t, and you go back and do the things you can to give your team a chance to win when you’re not playing your best. That guy’s a heck of a player.”

It was the first meeting in eight years between the former Big 12 rivals and the 11th consecutive bowl appearance for the Aggies. The win helped erase the bitter taste from A&M’s previous game, a 50-7 defeat to No. 1 LSU on Nov. 30.

It also served as the 100th career win for Fisher, who improved to 2-0 in bowl games at the helm of the Aggies. This one didn’t come easily. A&M trailed 14-0 after the first quarter.

“We started out the last game we played, and things didn’t work out,” Fisher said. “Our team could’ve said, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.’ But they didn’t lose their poise, battled right back and showed a lot of character. They went right back to fundamentals, and that’s what gets you back on track.”

Fisher said he hoped his team took away from this season “the urgency to be great.”

“The level of consistency and toughness and execution you have to have to be great, and then, when you get to that certain level … they don’t let you eat at that table unless you take a chair,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to want to be there.”

While an otherwise ho-hum game will likely be remembered for Mond’s big run, it was the Aggies’ defense which enabled that.

Oklahoma State scored 14 points on 163 total yards in the first quarter, embarrassing A&M’s defense behind the accuracy of quarterback Dru Brown, playmaking of receiver Braydon Johnson and running of Chuba Hubbard, one of the nation’s best backs.

But over the final three quarters, the Cowboys managed just seven points on 171 total yards; in the third quarter, Oklahoma State had 16 yards on 12 plays. The Aggies’ defense produced four sacks and nine tackles for a loss.

Sophomore defensive end Tyree Johnson had two sacks and two tackles for a loss. If Mond personified resilience for the offense, Johnson did the same for the defense. Entering the game, he’d had just two sacks all season.

“This whole year, I was expecting to have a more productive season,” Johnson said. “Things don’t always go the way you planned. But it’s not about me. It’s about doing my job for the team, and that’s what I shifted my focus to in the middle of the season. I was focused on the sacks at the beginning, letting everybody talk about that. I just started focusing more on what I have to do to help the team win and be the best I can be for that.”

Oklahoma State averaged 7.4 yards per play at the half, when it led 14-7. It finished at 5.7 yards per play.

“Those guys up front put a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” said Fisher, commending the play of sophomore defensive tackle Bobby Brown, junior defensive tackle Jayden Peevy, junior defensive end Michael Clemons, freshman defensive end DeMarvin Leal, and Johnson. “They had the sacks, got penetration. We overran some runs, but we fit better in the secondary. Our front was very physical. Those young guys played well.”

Entering the game, the primary storyline for A&M was its depleted depth at running back. Only one scholarship player, Isaiah Spiller, was available for the game.

It ended up being immaterial.

A&M compiled 248 rushing yards for six yards per carry. Mond led the way, followed by Spiller’s 77 yards and a touchdown, and Smith’s 54 yards.

In all, the true freshmen Spiller and Smith combined for 179 all-purpose yards. Spiller finished the season as the team’s leader in touchdowns with 10.

“Both of those guys are extremely hard workers,” Mond said. “For Isaiah to come in as a true freshman and be thrown into the fire … playing running back is a big-time role understanding run schemes and pass protections, especially in this offense. People don’t realize how hard that is. Ainias coming in, us not having a deep running backs corps, he was able to switch from receiver and give our offense a huge kickstart.”

A&M’s five losses this season came to three No. 1 teams, a No. 4 team and a No. 12 team. Nineteen true freshmen and 11 redshirt freshmen played this year.

Fisher and his players spoke optimistically and proudly about what’s to come.

“The biggest thing is we never broke apart as a team,” Mond said. “That takes a lot of leaders and leadership from the coaches. When you play those big-time games, and your mindset is you expect to win but you don’t, you can fall apart and individualize. But for this team to grow together and stay together, it shows the resilience we have. Obviously, we’re going to play great teams next year, so we’ve got to grow and get better.”

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