LSU stuns Texas A&M, 27-24, in final seconds of Ed Orgeron's last home game
Ed Orgeron had harped and touted repeatedly for the past month and a half about the amount of fight and fire he still saw in his football team.
And backed deep into its own territory and suddenly trailing late Saturday, LSU put those qualities on full display in its coach's and its seniors' final game in Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers (6-6, 3-5) mounted their longest drive of the game in the final minutes all the way to a go-ahead strike from Max Johnson to Jaray Jenkins with 20 seconds remaining to stun No. 14 Texas A&M, 27-24.
"HOW 'BOUT THEM TIGAS, BABY!" Orgeron shouted and laughed as he took the podium following the game, eventually continuing, "I just can't say enough about our football team. I can't say enough about the 19 seniors. And we always kept on talking about just keep on fighting, keep on fighting and something good's gonna happen.
"What a way to end that game. Those guys kept on fighting."
The sophomore quarterback dropped back under pressure — in the game and on the play — on fourth down from his own 19-yard line and found Jack Bech for the 11-yard conversion.
The catch with just over a minute remaining was the first of the game for the freshman receiver, who had entered the contest leading the team in receptions.
Johnson found Jenkins for 31 yards and freshman receiver Malik Nabers for another 11 yards the next two plays.
And two plays later he dropped a perfectly placed throw to Jenkins up the right sideline in tight coverage for the 28-yard score and the glory.
"We were all may for this," Johnson said of his thoughts taking the field for the game-winning drive. "That's why we all came here just to win games and be put in these situations. And we came out with the win, and I'm happy for the guys."
LSU had stalled repeatedly in the second half to allow a 17-7 lead eventually evaporate with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns by the Aggies (8-4, 4-4).
But rather than fade out with a whimper, the Tigers capped an up-and-down and often frustrating regular season with a celebratory bang.
LSU avoided falling to its first losing record since 1999 and instead salvaged bowl eligibility with back-to-back wins to end November.
The Tigers also sent Texas A&M back to College Station, Texas, still winless in Baton Rouge since joining the SEC in 2012.
LSU is 8-2 in the series during that span, including victories in two of the past three seasons.
And Orgeron finishes his six-year tenure with a 55-20 record since taking over a month into the 2016 season, including the historic 15-0 national championship run in 2019.
"I was ready," he said. "I just felt that this came out at the right time. We did what we were supposed to do at LSU. We won a championship. Two subpar seasons, I was in total agreement with (athletic director) Scott (Woodward) when he came to me... Look, man, I knew it. May the next guy step in and do great. I wish him all the best."
Orgeron confirmed that he and the administration had agreed this contest would be his last and that offensive line coach Brad Davis would serve as an interim coach moving forward toward a potential bowl game.
But he reiterated multiple times that the evening was not about him, but the team's 19 seniors.
"And I told the guys I wish 'em luck," he said. "I'm not gonna sit here and coach when there's another guys coming in to be the head coach next week or the week after."
Johnson finished 22-for-38 for 306 yards and three scores.
Jenkins hauled in career highs of eight catches and 169 yards, highlighted by a pair of the game's first and last touchdowns.
And junior running back Tyrion Davis-Price led the rushing attack with 19 carries for 84 yards.
LSU came out strong with a slow, but sure scoring drive to open the game and a strong defense tone to force punts on Texas A&M's first three possessions.
Junior kicker Cade York capped the Tigers' 13-play, 44-yard first possession, which ate 6:22 off the clock, with a 50-yard field goal.
And two drives later, Johnson hit junior Jenkins on a 45-yard strike up the left sideline for a 10-0 lead.
The Aggies finally strung together enough successful plays on offense on their fourth possession to mount a seven-play, 73-yard scoring mark.
Sophomore quarterback Zach Calzada narrowly got a dart off and over blitzing senior linebacker Damone Clark on third down to freshman receiver Moose Muhammad III in tight coverage to pull back within 10-7.
"We had to stop the run," Clark said. "That was the biggest thing: stop the run. We gave up a few plays, but that's part of football. But when the defense needed to step up most, we did."
After a defensive stop, Texas A&M appeared in prime position with two minutes remaining in the half, two timeouts and the third-quarter kickoff scheduled to head its way.
But a second-down sack by sophomore defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy instead helped swing momentum back LSU's way.
The Tigers forced a three-and-out, and Johnson found junior speedster Trey Palmer on a quick screen on second down that the Kentwood product took 61 yards to the end zone and a 17-7 halftime lead.
Orgeron's team could only hold off the Aggies for so long, though.
Seth Small and York traded field goals of 33 and 47 yards, respectively, in the third quarter to move the tally to 20-10.
Johnson and company couldn't manage any more against the Texas A&M pass rush, led by veteran linemen Micheal Clemons and DeMarvin Leal.
Clemons led the Aggies' six-sack evening with 3.5, and Leal, junior defensive back Demani Richardson and senior lineman Tyree Johnson each joined that effort.
Eventually Calzada managed to buy just enough time against the LSU pressure to find junior Jalen Preston for a pair of touchdown catches, his first two of the season for 15 and 32 yards, and a 24-20 lead with 7:33 remaining.
LSU struggled once more to rekindle anything offensively and was forced to punt for the third straight time and fifth of six second-half possessions.
But the Tigers defense forced a three-and-out for one more opportunity for Johnson and the offense — which he, Jenkins and company proceeded to etch into purple-and-gold history.
"I really am happy," Orgeron said. "Because there was some dissension going on in the locker room and stuff like that, and guys were getting pissed. And I didn't blame 'em. And I told 'em, 'Hey, put it on me.' But they came up with the big play tonight at the end when the defense really needed 'em to make the big play.
"So I think you've got a happy group in that locker room, and I'm just happy for 'em."
Clark led LSU with 10 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks and another hurry, in a game expected to be his last in Tiger Stadium.
Roy added a sack, and senior defensive end Soni Fonua joined Clark for a half of another.
Senior defensive back Cameron Lewis finished with seven tackles and a quarterback hurry.
"I'll never forget this game," Clark said. "I love this team. Like I said last week, 'I told y'all we were gonna win.'"
Calzada finished 20-for-35 for 242 yards and three touchdowns for the Aggies.
And sophomore running back Devon Achane caught five passes for 72 yards and rushed 12 times for 49 yards to lead the Texas A&M skill position players.