No. 19 Texas A&M closed out its 2018 football season with a 52-13 win over North Carolina State at the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher described the game as a learning moment for the team because of the different mindset that comes with playing in a bowl game, and was proud to give the seniors a win.
“As a team, I thought all three phases of our team were really, really good tonight,” Fisher said. “Our special teams, we kicked the ball well, had the one missed long field goal, but that's a tough one there. We hit our kicks, our punts, our coverages, returns, everything was really good, defense was outstanding.”
A&M had a bumpy start, falling behind the Wolfpack 13-7 in the first quarter. A&M’s offense was unable to maintain accuracy with throws and passes, while their secondary proved to be lacking without seniors Otaro Alaka and Donovan Wilson, who were both out due to injury.
“Yeah, losing those two key guys, those are veterans right there,” junior linebacker Tyrel Dodson said. “Coach Elko's thing is next man up, and Buddy Johnson came in, and Leon O'Neal came in and played their tails off.”
This all seemed to change late in the second after junior running back Trayveon Williams gave A&M the lead with a 2-yard rushing touchdown, and sophomore quarterback Kellen Mond connected with sophomore wide receiver Kendrick Rogers for a 6-yard catch in the endzone.
From then on, the Aggies showed no signs of stopping on either side of the ball. Closing out the second quarter, freshman defensive back Leon O’Neal Jr. earned his first interception as an Aggie as a part of the defense showing their presence on the field.
Junior linebacker Tyrel Dodson followed in suit with his own interception on Ryan Finley, running it back for a 78-yard touchdown.
“There's a difference between practice and wanting to be coached. You can practice and not want to be coached. It's tough. Those guys want to be coached. They want to learn,” Fisher said of the defense.
Williams earned two more touchdowns in the second half, moving him to break the record for rushing yards in a single season by an Aggie with his most notable 93-yard rushing touchdown.
However, this was not the only touchdown to move the hearts of Aggie fans, redshirt senior fullback and 12th Man Cullen Gillaspia ran 13-yards for his first career touchdown with just 22 seconds left on the clock.
“That was probably one of the best moments I've ever been a part of at this university, not only just having that moment for Cullen but having a moment for the 12th man,” Williams said.
With the victory A&M moves to a 9-4 overall season record, making for their first nine-win season since joining the SEC in 2012. The Aggies also broke a few records on Monday as the season wrapped. Williams slashed the Gator Bowl rushing record with a total of 256 yards, junior punter Braden Mann became the new NCAA single season record holder for the highest average per punt and A&M broke its three game losing streak in bowl games.
The Aggies will return to the field for their annual Maroon and White Spring game at Kyle Field in April.