OXFORD, Miss. — After his heroics on the field, after sawing ‘em off with his teammates and a rabid A&M visiting section, Johnny Manziel smiled.
Wearing that wide grin, he gave the double gig ‘ems to the adoring crowd and walked along the end zone bleachers slapping hands with the maroon-clad folks who made the trip.
For the second straight year, he broke Ole Miss’s heart, and that smile never left his face as he took a victory lap past the A&M fans.
Wide receiver Travis Labhart said it was funny to him to see Manziel slicing and dicing through a Southeastern Conference defense because just hours before the two were laughing and watching football. To the walk-on receiver, nerves and Manziel don’t belong in the same sentence. The reigning Heisman winner proved that as he led the Aggies down the field twice with less than 6 minutes to go in the game to overcome a seven-point defecit and help A&M tie the school record with its 10th straight road win.
“He’s outstanding,” Labhart said. “I’ve never seen somebody that’s such a gamer.”
It looked like Manziel’s game — and possibly season — could have ended when his knee buckled on a scramble to the left. He limped off the field, though, had a brace put on his left knee and returned for the next series.
“We communicated about it and he said he was ready to go back,” said A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin.
Much of the night felt like a flashback to 2012. Manziel was more willing to tuck the ball in the pocket and take off. His 18 carries were a season-high. His most important one came on a fourth-and-6 with the Aggies down seven in the fourth quarter. Manziel darted 10 yards to secure a first down. A few plays later, he rolled to the right, eluded the rush, reversed field and sprinted to the left side of the end zone to even it up.
“Johnny’s a beast,” said kicker Josh Lambo. “Week-in and week-out, we can expect greatness from him.”
After a timely three-and-out from the A&M defense, Manziel was back in the driver’s seat with the ball in his hands and the game on the line.
He did not disappoint.
He found Derel Walker for 14 yards on first down. He then gained 25 yards on consecutives carries to get the Aggies into field-goal range for Lambo’s 33-yard game-winner.
Manziel lives for these moments, and his teammates know that.
“You [saw] the last two drives we had on offense,” senior running back Ben Malena said.
For a second straight year, Manziel was less than perfect at a stadium that seems to give him fits. After his three-turnover performance last season, Manziel forced a throw into triple-coverage that was picked off and fumbled on a designed run.
But when his team needed him most, Manziel answered the call and led the Aggies to victory.
And he did it with a smile on his face.