Friday, December 13, 2002
No. 13 Texas 43, No. 22 Texas A&M 17
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas' young guns are all grown up.
In a game of personal and team redemption in an up-and-down season, sophomore Chris Simms remedied unfulfilled expectations with his best game against the Longhorns' biggest rival.
Simms passed for 383 yards and three touchdowns, all to freshmen receivers, as No. 13 Texas earned a 43-17 victory over No. 22 Texas A&M on Friday.
Simms was a perfect 8-for-8 passing for 234 yards and threw all of his touchdown passes in an explosive third quarter in which the teams combined for 37 points.
It was a dynamic coming-of-age performance for the son of former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms.
After a season in which he bounced in and out of the starting lineup and had more interceptions than touchdown passes coming into the game, Simms got the start because Major Applewhite was hobbled by a knee injury.
"This year's been ups and downs and bumps and bruises," Simms said. "I knew I had to learn from everything that was happening. It was part of growing up. Today was a real big redemption."
Simms got his first career start against A&M last year when Applewhite got sick with a stomach virus on game day. Simms led Texas to a 16-6 lead in that game before he was pulled for Applewhite and A&M rallied for a 20-16 win.
This time, Simms was in total control.
Leading 10-7 at halftime, the Longhorns (9-2, 7-1 Big 12) opened the decisive third quarter by driving 71 yards on four plays. Roy Williams capped the drive with a 40-yard TD run on a reverse.
After forcing the Aggies to punt, Texas quickly struck again when Simms finished an 81-yard drive with a 20-yard scoring strike to Williams that made it 24-7.
The Aggies (7-4, 5-3) rallied behind 25-year-old quarterback Mark Farris to pull to 24-14 on a 56-yard scoring pass to Mickey Jones. Jones beat two defenders and scampered down the sideline for the score.
But Simms, who had four pickoffs returned for scores this season, never wavered.
On Texas' next drive, Simms hit Sloan Thomas on a deep out pattern. Thomas broke a tackle and turned it into a 55-yard touchdown play.
Simms struck again later in the quarter when he pump-faked on another out pattern and launched a 70-yard bomb to B.J. Johnson that made it 37-17.
"They're the three best freshmen receivers in the country," Simms said. "I don't think anybody can deny that."
As the clock wound down in the final minute, Simms turned to the crowd and waived his arms up and down as if all the expectations of him had been fulfilled.
"Chris played awesome," said Johnson, whose 187 receiving yards broke the Texas freshman mark of 175 set earlier this season by Williams.
"He stepped up in a big game and played his heart out. Today, he showed what he can do and what kind of power he has on the football field."
The victory also helped Texas fulfill some of the high expectations the Longhorns had when they the started the season ranked in the Top 10.
The win gives Texas its third consecutive nine-win season under coach Mack Brown, the first time the Longhorns have accomplished that feat since 1981-83. It is also likely to put Texas back into the Top 10 for the first time since early September.
"How does this win stack up? Tonight, it's the biggest I've ever had," Brown said.
"This game was really important to us because I want to win 10 games," Brown said. The Longhorns haven't won 10 games in a season since 1995.
Farris, who had returned to A&M after a stint playing minor league baseball and had been praised by Aggies coaches for his poise this season, finished with 290 yards passing and set the Aggies' single-season record with 2,551 yards.
But he also made two critical turnovers.
His first pass of the game was picked off of by Greg Brown, who returned it 10 yards for a 7-0 Texas lead in the opening minutes.
"On the road, things snowball and we couldn't stop them," Farris said. "We all could have played better."
A&M trailed 10-7 in the second quarter when Farris killed a potential go-ahead drive with a fumble on the Texas 9.
Kris Stockton had field goals of 34, 31 and 30 yards to set a Texas single-season record with 22.
The game was the kind of shootout the 106-year-old rivalry needed.
State bragging rights were overshadowed last year by the A&M bonfire tragedy. Twelve people were killed and dozens more injured when the log stack for a traditional pregame blaze collapsed.
The rivalry appeared back on track early in the week when Longhorns defenders said Aggie fullback Ja'Mar Toombs would "fold" if hit hard enough.
Toombs rushed for 126 yards and scored twice against Texas last year. He managed just 53 yards on Friday and didn't score.
Still up in the air are bowl options for both teams. Although Texas can't win the Big 12, the Longhorns haven't yet been released by the Bowl Championship Series. The Holiday and Cotton Bowls are possible destinations.
The Aggies most likely are destined for the Alamo, Insight.com or Independence bowls.
|Chris Simms hopes to improve his 3-3 record against ranked opponents.|