ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) No. 23 Texas A&M had a chance to really take control early when big defensive tackle Justin Madubuike intercepted a pass at the goal line.
That’s just not what happens when the Aggies, even when favored by more than three touchdowns, play Arkansas. These games are always close.
Kellen Mond threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns, and Quartney Davis‘ second TD catch put the Aggies ahead to stay in a 31-27 win Saturday over Arkansas, which drove to the A&M 19 in the final minute before a fourth-down incompletion.
“I wouldn’t say it’s embarrassing. I’ve been playing this game for the past three years and it seems like every year it comes down to the wire,” Davis said. “It’s a pretty interesting game.”
Instead of the Aggies (3-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) seizing momentum after Madubuike picked off the pass by Nick Starkel, DeJon Harris scooped up a fumble and returned it 6 yards for a touchdown on the next play to get Arkansas within 14-10 with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first half.
Starkel, the grad transfer who played for Texas A&M the past two seasons, sustained a significant bruise on his left (non-throwing) arm when tackling the 304-pound Madubuike and didn’t return.
“I had never had an interception in my life,” Madubuike said. “I just looked up to see where the ball was and it just appeared right to my left peripheral. I turned and it was right there, and grabbed it and tried to run, and he tried to tackle me.”
The Razorbacks even went ahead when Ben Hicks, who lost the starting job to Starkel after two games, made a nice back-shoulder throw to Mike Woods in the front corner of the end zone for a 13-yard TD.
A week after a home loss to San Jose State, the Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2) lost their 13th consecutive SEC game, including all 10 under second-year coach Chad Morris. They have lost eight in a row against Texas A&M since the Aggies left the Big 12.
“It hurts that it was that close and we couldn’t do it, but I think it opened some eyes,” Arkansas cornerback Kamren Curl said.
“We’ve got to find ways to win games like this,” Morris said. “This was a pivotal week for our football team. We all knew this performance last week was unacceptable. And how we responded was the only thing that matters, and why we got the results that we did.”
After Mond was picked off in the end zone late in the third quarter, the Razorbacks had to punt after Hicks was sacked at the 2. That set up a short drive for Mond’s 3-yard TD to Davis with 12:21 left.
Davis’ 22-yard catch-and-run 8 seconds before halftime had put A&M up 21-17. He spun away from a linebacker after making a short catch, then swept across to the other side of the field to score.
The teams traded field goals after Davis’ second TD catch, and Seth Small’s 50-yarder with 3:52 left was big for Texas A&M.
“You always feel good because you find ways to persevere and have success, but you’re not satisfied, you’re not content,” Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You know there’s a lot of issues that we have to get fixed to go on down the road to play good football.”
A close game between the former Southwest Conference rivals really should be no surprise. The Aggies won by a touchdown last year, after three of the previous four meetings went to overtime.
Texas A&M: After losses to No. 1 Clemson and No. 7 Auburn, the Aggies again found themselves in a tight game against Arkansas. Texas A&M had a chance to take control early after Madubuike’s interception, but the scoop-and-score by Arkansas on the next play quickly changed the tone of things again.
Arkansas: Hicks, who lost the starting job to Starkel after two games, had already converted one fourth down on the final Arkansas drive, and had an impressive 17-yard scramble before his final pass was incomplete. He finished 15 of 27 for 188 yards.
Morris said afterward, “Nick’s our starter.”
The game was played again in the home stadium of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, who are owned by Jerry Jones, a captain for Arkansas’ 1964 undefeated team. Jones was at the game. His grandson, John Stephen Jones, is a Razorbacks quarterback.
Texas A&M was the only two-loss team in the latest AP Top 25. The Aggies likely did enough to hang in the poll.
Texas A&M: The Aggies have an open date before hosting second-ranked Alabama on Oct. 12, which starts a stretch of four of five games at home.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks play Oct. 12 at Kentucky after an open date.