ATLANTA -- The Johnny Manziel send-off that Texas A&M fans and pundits expected in the Chick-fil-A Bowl played out in a thrilling comeback victory Tuesday, when Texas A&M defeated Duke, 52-48, at the Georgia Dome.
Defensive back Toney Hurd put the Aggies ahead when he returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown with 3:33 remaining. While Manziel led the comeback, Hurd's play allowed the former Heisman Trophy winner to watch from the sideline as the Aggies took their first lead of the game in the final minutes; he was needed only to kneel three downs to kill the clock by the time the Aggies offense re-took the field.
In a dazzling performance that was likely his final college game, Manziel played from a scoreboard deficit for all but the opening and closing minutes as the Blue Devils opened a 21-3 lead and went to the half ahead 38-17. By that point, the much-maligned Aggies defense had already allowed 365 total yards and had no answers for Duke's combination of vertical passing and inside rushing. The Blue Devils finished with 661 yards in total offense and usually had a quick answer for Manziel's efforts to generate a Texas A&M comeback.
Manziel finished 30 of 38 for 382 yards and four touchdowns, two of which came in the second half, when the Aggies outscored the Blue Devils 35-10. Manziel also rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
His signature play of the night came on a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Travis Labhart on A&M's first drive of the second half. Manziel scrambled and looked as though he was going to to take a sack, but he made a miraculous escape from the pocket and found Labhart near the left corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown pass. That play sparked the biggest comeback ever for the Aggies, who trailed by 21 points before Manziel's magical moment.
"I was in a zone today that I really haven't been in before, ever," Manziel said. "That's pretty much it. I wanted this game more than anything."
NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt reported on Monday that Manziel and wide receiver Mike Evans, both third-year sophomores with major NFL potential, will not return to Texas A&M next year. Manziel declined to say whether he will turn pro, saying after the game, "I've got until (January) 15th, so we'll see."
Evans failed to get open consistently against the Duke secondary and committed two 15-yard penalties. He finished with four catches for 72 yards.