Texas A&M Gets Emotional Win

Flower arrangements
CBS/The Early Show

The tears came easily for Texas A&M even in victory, even after a week of heartache.

With flags at half-staff and "Amazing Grace" echoing at halftime, the Aggies beat their biggest rival Friday in a game played amid grief for the 12 people who died building the traditional bonfire before the Texas game.

"We had the thought and memory of those 12 in our hearts and minds every single play," said Aggie offensive lineman Chris Valletta, his eyes watery and red after No. 24 A&M rallied to beat the No. 7 Longhorns 20-16.

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Game summary

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  • Before a crowd of 86,128 the largest ever to see a game in Texas Ja'Mar Toombs rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns for A&M. Quarterback Randy McCown hit Matt Bumgardner from 14 yards out for the winning touchdown with 5:02 left.

    Valletta had the names of the victims 11 Texas A&M students and a recent graduate written on the shirt he wore under his shoulder pads.

    "I hope this win can ease the pain a little bit. I personally want to send this to all of them, from all of us."

    The tragedy struck at the heart of one of A&M's most cherished traditions and drastically altered the buildup to the state's biggest rivalry.

    Aggie players missed practice for two days last week. When the bonfire stack collapsed, A&M players helped rescuers move the logs in search of survivors.

    Longhorns players and staff helped stage a blood drive for the victims. Texas officials also canceled their annual "hex rally" before the game and instead held a "unity rally" that included busloads of A&M students.

    On Friday, Texas A&M players wore commemorative patches with an image of a burning bonfire on their helmets. Four F-16 fighter jets from the Air Force Reserve flew over the stadium in the missing man formation, usually reserved for military aviators killed in the line of duty.

    Twelve doves, one for each victim of the Nov. 18 accident, were released into the stadium before the game.

    "I was fraid of a possibility of the stress wearing our team down. I was uneasy about that all week," said A&M coach R.C. Slocum.

    "They were very ragged the first day but that changed as the game got closer," Slocum said.

    "This week was very distracting for both teams," said Texas coach Mack Brown.

    It looked as if the emotional week had taken its toll when the Aggies (8-3, 5-3 Big 12) fell behind 16-6 at halftime.

    Texas freshman quarterback Chris Simms, who started in place of an ailing Major Applewhite, led Texas to two first half touchdowns on runs of 14 and 1 yards by Hodges Mitchell and Chris Robertson.

    But Simms, who completed 8-of-16 for 116 yards in the first half, wilted in the second under a tough Aggie pass rush as momentum shifted and the crowd made it difficult to call plays.

    "Right before we came in from warmups, they told me I was starting," Simms said. "I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be. I enjoyed getting hit more than I enjoyed the crowd. They were loud."

    Toombs, who scored A&M's first touchdown on a 3-yard run in the first quarter, pulled the Aggies to within 16-13 with a 9-yard TD in the third.

    "At the start it was kind of somber because we still had on our minds on those people who lost their lives while helping us win the game," Toombs said.

    "We knew if we wanted to show our gratitude there was not a better time than this game," he said.

    Simms completed just two passes for 14 yards in the second half. Applewhite, who had developed a stomach virus Thursday and decided Friday morning he couldn't start, took over in the fourth quarter.

    "I feel horrible for all the seniors who had to depend on me," said Simms, the son of former pro quarterback Phil Simms.

    "I don't know what to think about the game about right now," he said.

    The Longhorns' offense gained just 71 yards in the final quarter and went three and out on Applewhite's first two series against an inspired A&M defense.

    McCown, whose fumble on the Texas 25 earlier in the quarter stopped a potential scoring drive, drove A&M 48 yards for the winning touchdown. He hit Chris Cole for 24 yards to the Texas 13 before finding Bumgardner for the go-ahead TD two plays later.

    "You can't put it into words. A game like this is something you wish for all your life," said McCown, who choked up and fought to hold back tears after the game. He completed 8-of-22 for 156 yards.

    Applewhite drove Texas to the Aggies' 46 on the Longhorns' last possession. But he fumbled when he was sacked by Jay Brooks and the ball was recovered by A&M's Brian Gamble with 23 seconds left.

    Applewhite, Texas' first 3,000-yard passer, was 5-of-11 for 53 yards.

    Texas (9-3, 6-2), winner of the Big 12 South Division, plays Nebraska on Dec. 4 in the Big 12 title game in San Antonio.

    After the game, Aggie fans lingered on Kyle Field for about 45 minutes. The A&M players, meanwhile, can start to move beyond the tragedy that rocked the campus of 43,000. The university still is investigating what caused the 40-foot bonfire stack to collapse.

    "It was a relief to get on the field," said Aggie safety Michael Jameson.

    "The victims were in the back of our minds," he said. "And we wanted to win it for them."

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