Devon Achane didn’t record his first carry in No. 5 Texas A&M’s Orange Bowl appearance until midway through the third quarter, but the effect the freshman running back had on the game was apparent from the start.
After coming in to relieve an injured Isaiah Spiller against No. 13 North Carolina, Achane finished the game with 140 total rushing yards on 12 carries, earning the title of Orange Bowl MVP.
With just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Achane busted out a 76-yard run to the endzone, helping A&M retake the lead 34-27 after entering the fourth quarter down 27-20. The Aggies would finish the game on 21 unanswered points, continuing their fourth quarter dominance with a 41-27 win in their first Orange Bowl appearance since 1944.
Achane said he can’t take complete credit for the play.
“First off, I have to thank the O-line for that,” Achane said. “It was a counter play, Jalen Wydermyer made a great block and I was just following my blockers. They made it easy for me.”
Regardless of who deserves the credit for the score, sophomore defensive end DeMarvin Leal said he can credit that play with boosting the team’s morale.
“It gave us all a boost,” Leal said. “We were there trying to fight and fight for that energy that we were trying to get and as soon as that happened, you could just feel the energy. Energy is so contagious, so you could just feel that energy go through everybody. It was an amazing outcome.”
While A&M’s offense was busy scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter — scoring the most points in one quarter of a bowl game in program history as well as the most fourth quarter points in a bowl game since Oklahoma scored 27 in 1958 — the defense was also putting together a stout performance.
Prior to the game, North Carolina’s offense had also had its share of fourth quarter dominance, outscoring opponents 124-60 in the final frame throughout the 2020 season. On Saturday, A&M held the Tar Heels to just seven points in the fourth quarter.
With the win, A&M has outscored its last three opponents — North Carolina, Tennessee and Auburn — 51-7 in the fourth quarter.
A&M coach Jimbo Fisher said the recent success the Aggies have had in the fourth quarter is a reflection of their focus.
“There's an urgency,” Fisher said. “You know the game’s on the line… There’s an urgency and a caring and a gut-wrenching ability to raise your game to the next level and do your job no matter how you feel. That’s what great teams do, that’s what competitive teams do and that's what they did.”
Though the Aggies launched a scoring surge in the fourth quarter Saturday, touchdowns were hard to come by for the Aggies.
A&M went into the fourth quarter down 20-17 as North Carolina’s defense held the Aggies to just 72 rushing yards in the first half. Spiller, who battled an apparent leg injury until leaving the game in the third quarter, finished with 50 yards on 11 carries after overtaking the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.
In potentially the final game of his collegiate career, senior quarterback Kellen Mond tied one final program record, sharing the title of career touchdown leader with Johnny Manziel at 93 touchdowns.
Mond said the Orange Bowl win was a testament to not only his own personal growth, but also Fisher’s as the Aggies third-year coach.
“Our first year together and looking where we are now, we’ve overcome so much stuff,” Mond said. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity and a lot of people doubted if he could win big games and also doubted me and we just continued to fight. We only lost one game, and now we’re Orange Bowl Champions.”
Mond said he has yet to make a final decision regarding his future and his extra year of eligibility at A&M, as he chose to focus on preparing for the Orange Bowl matchup.
“It was something that was talked about in the locker room, but no decisions have been made and I really just wanted to come out here and focus on exactly what I needed to focus on and that was to execute and lead my team to another victory,” Mond said.
Even if Mond elects not to use his extra year of eligibility, Fisher said he has made a mark on the younger players that will help the Aggies moving forward.
“He’s one of the great quarterbacks in Texas A&M history,” Fisher said. “People saw him have a good game, had some tough games, [but] never hung his head, always came back to work each and every day. He’s a role model for these kids about how to persevere because nothing’s ever going to be perfect and you’re going to have the ups and downs to go through it. He is a tremendous human being. I love him to death, but more importantly, I respect him to death.”