With 2:08 left in the game, an injured Zach Calzada led the Texas A&M offense 54 yards down the field to set up a Seth Small 28-yard field goal to dethrone top-ranked Alabama, 41-38, Saturday night.
The win marked just the third time that the Aggies have beaten a team atop the AP Top 25, and Jimbo Fisher became the first former assistant to defeat Nick Saban.
Here's what the Texas A&M players had to say afterward:
Q. Devon, you haven't had many chances to return kicks, but what did that kickoff return for a touchdown do for you guys getting it going there in that second half?
DEVON ACHANE: It just gave us a lot of momentum. It was a big opportunity for us. We were talking about it even before it happened. Like, when we was kicking out of the end zone, they wasn't running in their spaces. So when they kicked the show in, the special teams made their blocks and just made it easy for me to just do my job.
Q. Hey, Devon. It was a big bounceback performance for Zach [Calzada] today. When you see him come out and do what he's capable of, how much different was Zach today than we've seen the last two weeks?
DEVON ACHANE: He was very different. He just went back to practice and worked on the things that he needed to get better at. We been knowing what he can do. He just came out today and showed the abilities to the 12th Man. We're thankful for them as well. They cheered him on, and he just was calm and he was just more confident and consistent.
Q. What was going through your mind when you realized there was a gap in the coverage during that 96-yard kickoff return?
DEVON ACHANE: I couldn't believe it. The hole was so big. It was just like, Is this for me? It was just amazing, and the feeling after that on scoring that, it was just amazing for me. And I was just happy to do my job and make us be in a better position to win.
Q. Devon, new week, new offensive line formation. What did you see from these guys tonight, especially for them not to allow not just the open lanes? But also they basically protected Zach [Calzada] all night long.
DEVON ACHANE: I've been seeing that from week one. Their bond is getting bigger -- I mean better. They been going to practice, like I was saying, they were just working on little things. Today they came out, and we knew we was playing a great team so we knew the standard was high. So we just came out, and we played together as a team and they played great.
Q. How were you guys able to shake off the disappointment of the last two weeks and come out here to be able to compete against the number one team in the country?
DEVON ACHANE: Them two losses, like, two weeks ago, that was last week. So we weren't really focused on those. We knew we had to come and play against the number one team. So we wasn't sad about those losses. We were just ready to play the number one team, and we knew we had a great opportunity.
Q. Devon, until tonight, Nick Saban was 24-0 against his former assistant. What does it mean to you guys as a team to be coached by the one man that has now taken down Saban?
DEVON ACHANE: It means a lot. I mean, Coach [Jimbo] Fisher is a great coach. He tells us we can be a dangerous team if we all just come together as a team and work hard. And we showed that we can be great, and we've just got to keep doing what we've been doing.
Q. Hey, Devon, can you just talk just in general, just your feelings on getting the win, how good it feels?
DEVON ACHANE: It feels great. You know, it shows us that we're capable of doing great things. You know, it's amazing. We love this feeling. So get back to Monday, we're just going to keep working hard and try to win every week and focus on the teams that we're playing.
Q. Devon, it was kind of like a heavyweight fight. You took the lead and then Alabama comes back and takes the lead. But can you just talk about how you guys were able to respond and how big that is for the confidence of this team, considering you came into it having lost the last two?
DEVON ACHANE: Like I say, Alabama is the number one team. They're a great team. They're coached very well. They're disciplined. So we knew in the game that they were going to make some great plays, they were going to get momentum. And we stayed calm. I'm glad that we were able to pull off the win.
Q. Tyree, what were you doing or what were you able to do that you were able to get home on Bryce Young so many times tonight? You especially?
TYREE JOHNSON: Mostly, I was just focusing on my technique. Watched a lot of film. Watched their tendencies and all that. So I was just going out there with a game plan I had worked on, the pass rush moves that I worked on all week, and then just execute them.
Q. Tyree, this time last year, you got probably the biggest winning program in history with the knock off of Florida. What does it mean to have the win tonight over Alabama, the number one team in the country?
TYREE JOHNSON: It means a lot, but we can't get distracted by just this one game. We still got, like, six, seven more games to go. So we've got to focus on this week coming up. We got a new test ahead of us, and we've got to keep working. The season ain't over, so we've got a lot of things we want to accomplish so we got to keep our heads down and keep going.
Q. Tyree, what was the -- for lack of a better way to put it, the frame of mind, if you could speak for your whole team, this week after the two losses but with Alabama coming up? Obviously, I don't think, you know, you don't pull off a win like that if you don't think you can do it. But if you could talk about the conversations going on between you guys and just the overall frame of mind all week.
TYREE JOHNSON: Well, just like you said, you can't do it if you don't believe, you know what I'm saying? So the whole week, we just focused on believing and doing our job, nothing out of the ordinary. And Jimbo [Fisher] is an experienced coach, great head coach. He's been working with [Nick] Saban for a lot of years. So we just got to follow his plan, his scheme, listen and keep doing the work, you know? Just got to keep our head down and keep going --
Q. Tyree, in the fourth, they put together a couple of drives and scored points, but the last drive when they had the ball, you guys came up and stopped them. Was there ever a doubt in your guys' mind that when you guys needed a stop when the game was on the line you guys could come up with it?
TYREE JOHNSON: We knew it was going to be a hard-fought win. We know that they was going to make plays, we was going to make plays. So we just had to keep playing the game, really. That was our mindset, going back to his questions too, that was our mindset during the whole week. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. We knew there was going to be punches taken and punches delivered. So we just had to keep doing what our scheme -- going through our scheme our coaches gave to us. And we just had to gut check, just really battle through that and really keep going and not let them in.
Q. I got a couple of questions for you. First off, can you talk about how special it was to win this game on Jimbo's [Fisher] birthday?
TYREE JOHNSON: I didn't even know it was his birthday until just now. Well, that explains a lot. But it means a lot. You know, we really wanted to get our confidence back, after especially the last two weeks. And this is a very good coached team. So we just had to get a little bit things rolling and get back to the Aggie football team we know we're capable of being.
Q. I'm sorry, I didn't know it was a secret. But the other question I have for you is, you guys just seem like defensively, you were able to be in the backfield a lot tonight. Is there a way you can explain that? I mean, was it preparation or was it just pure grit and determination?
TYREE JOHNSON: We do a lot of preparation all the time, of course, but grit and determination a lot, too. We wanted to come in and we wanted to make -- we wanted to make an emphasis on being physical, trying to be physical on the frontline. So we wanted to just do the best that we can to out-physical them, you know? So it's not an easy challenge, but we had to keep doing it for four quarters.
Q. In the second half, it felt like y'all were playing a lot of snaps. Do you feel like y'all were starting to wear down a little? And what were those conversations on the sidelines like to kind of keep the energy going?
TYREE JOHNSON: We wasn't thinking about that at all. We was just focused on keeping the juice up, like you just said. Guys on the sideline were just hyping each other up. We made big plays and everybody surrounding the guy who made the play. Just being there for each other. All believing in each other. You know, we can't do it if we don't believe. So we was all just having each other's back out there, really, and kept fighting.
Q. Hi, Antonio. How did it feel to Roll the Tide tonight?
ANTONIO JOHNSON: It's an amazing feeling. Everybody knew this game was going to be hard-fought. It's like one-in-a-lifetime feeling. They're a great team. Coach [Nick] Saban, they coached them well over there. And we knew coming into this game that we was going to have to really dig deep and fight, and that's what we did.
Q. As a kid from St. Louis, are these the type of games you came to Texas A&M to play in?
ANTONIO JOHNSON: Of course. Through my whole recruitment, Coach [Mike] Elko and Coach [Jimbo] Fisher, they both told me coming here that we were going to be in big games like this. As a kid, this is a game you dream of playing in. I'm at a loss for words right now.
Q. So it sounds like it lived up to the expectations of the 12th Man and everything like that. What was the atmosphere like? I mean, the 12th Man sounded like it was on fire tonight.
ANTONIO JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, the 12th Man came and they showed out tonight. They played a big roll on third downs. Just being loud, having -- you know, just bringing the atmosphere for us, and we needed them tonight. And they came and pulled their weight tonight.
Q. Antonio, you talked about a once-in-a-lifetime deal. What was it like seeing the kids come out of the stands and celebrate with you guys after the big win on the field at Kyle [Field]?
ANTONIO JOHNSON: It was different, for sure. I've never been a part of a crowd storm. It was a lot of people out there. They showed love to us. Just telling us that they was behind us. We know that we have the 12th Man. We know they behind us. And just for them to be there and bring the energy tonight, it showed a lot.
Q. What was the preparation like leading into this game, knowing that the last two weeks you guys didn't really play the way that you're capable of playing and a lot of people were down on you guys? Did you feel that, and did you want to come out and show out because of that?
ANTONIO JOHNSON: Of course. We knew the last two weeks that we didn't play to our best ability. We took this week as an opportunity. That was the word of the week. We kept saying, "This is an opportunity game." Opportunity, you could do two things. You can either attack them or you can just let them go. And tonight, we attacked them.
Q. Hi, Antonio. As a defensive guy, I wonder how much time did you start watching Zach [Calzada] play, and what was your -- did you have the feeling like a lot of us did? Like, you know, where is this all coming from? You know, your reaction when you got a chance to sit back on the sideline and watch Zach doing the things he did today.
ANTONIO JOHNSON: During the whole spring, fall, Zach played well. We had no doubt in Zach. We never had doubt in Zach. Being in the position he was, he was a little nervous, but tonight he showed his true potential. He showed everyone what he can do. We all knew what Zach was capable of. He just showed it tonight.
Q. You guys won the turnover battle tonight. How big were those two in the first half? Especially Demani's [Richardson] interception in the end zone?
ANTONIO JOHNSON: Demani, he had a clutch, clutch interception. But we've been, like, behind the 8-ball on turnovers this year. And we've been really preaching about getting turnovers. And tonight I think we got two turnovers. In order to win big games like this, you have to create turnovers. And that's what we did tonight.
Q. Antonio, Jimbo [Fisher] was kind of talking about how you've got to prepare starting next week for Missouri starting on Monday. But how do you keep this momentum? How do you keep this anguish -- more importantly, how do you keep this confidence going into the remainder of the season?
ANTONIO JOHNSON: You just attack each week, how we attacked this one. We knew that they were going to be a hard team, and the preparation for practice and going into the game we would need to be highly prepared. We had a mentality, and that's what we went with. So like Coach [Jimbo Fisher] said, enjoy the win tonight, but tomorrow, Monday it's on to the next week. We have another test in front of us.\
Q. Seth, for the second year in a row, you kicked the game winner on Jimbo's [Fisher] birthday. So is this going to be a recurring theme as he continues here?
SETH SMALL: Yes. We're trying to get him a good happy birthday present. I didn't know what to get him, so we thought as a team that we'd like to get him a win over Alabama. And it was probably the third best moment of my life right after I accepted Jesus into my heart as my true Lord and Savior, and then after getting married to my wife this summer. I rank this three.
Q. So what puts this one ahead of Florida from last year?
SETH SMALL: Yes, I think this one takes the cake from Florida.
Q. Seth, you hit the game winner, and then all of a sudden, sorry to say, but then all hell breaks loose, man, I mean, and people are coming from -- it seemed like 100,000 were on the field with you.
SETH SMALL: It definitely did. It felt like 100,000 were on the field with us the whole night. I mean, the 12th Man stands all game long. Those students, they don't sit down. It was packed the whole entire game. Nobody left or anything like that. We have the best fans in the nation. And that's what makes it so special to play at Kyle Field. And you say that I hit it, but it was not just me. It was the defense getting a stop, the offense moving the ball down the field, and then Connor Choate snapping the ball, Nik Constantinou, my holder, and then all of the guys blocking on the line. It's not just me. I just get to do a little fraction of it, and I'm thankful of that. Those are the best guys ever. I love those boys.
Q. Seth, you have a locker right next to Zach [Calzada]. You've been through -- you've seen what he's gone through. What did it mean to you to see him celebrate and the love that the 12th Man showed him today?
SETH SMALL: I knew that this question was going to come at some point. Zach's [Calzada] first day on campus looks much different than how he looks now. To see how he's matured as a person, as a football player, as a leader on this team had been incredible. I hope that -- he says that I played a role in that as an older guy trying to influence him a little bit, but that's all Zach. He's worked his tail off. The quarterback race was really close this off-season, and he showed what he was capable of tonight. And I just love Zach. Prayed over him before the game started and last week. And he's just a guy's guy. And I'll just thankful the way that he played.
Q. Sometimes special teams are often forgotten about in the game of football. There's been a couple of games where you've almost had big breakaway runs on the punt returns and kickoff returns. What did it mean for Devon [Achane] to be able to get that running lane to go, just get that 96-yard touchdown?
SETH SMALL: Just as a momentum shifter in the game of football, Alabama had just scored and then we take the momentum right back. And I had actually been -- so during the week, I do the kickoffs for KOR. And every time he would run back, I would tell him, they're soft on kickoff. If you want to break one loose, it's going to happen. And I'm glad he took my advice and returned one. But that was just like shift in momentum to give us that spark. That whole kickoff return team did their job, and it resulted in six points.
Q. Since you were expecting the question, I'll ask one follow-up on it. With everything that he's gone through, with some of the negativity that's come his way, talking about Zach [Calzada], when you're sitting on the sidelines and you hear the student section and the fans start chanting his name, what kind of thought goes through your head at that moment?
SETH SMALL: That's really sweet was my first thought. And Zach [Calzada] is a guy who's going to get up off the mat and keep fighting. He knows that he didn't play to the best of his ability the past couple of weeks. But he was determined and each week got better and continued to lead this team the way that he did. Just really impressed with him. And his character showed tonight. I'm thankful that the 12th Man is always behind their team like they were tonight.
Q. You talked about being able to get that win or Jimbo [Fisher] on his birthday. But then also this was [Nick] Saban's first time losing to a former assistant coach. What do you think that shows about the leadership that you guys have on this team and the coaching roster as a whole?
SETH SMALL: So the coaches do a phenomenal job of putting us in position to make plays. Then it just comes down to us choosing during the week to trust the process. That's one thing Coach Fisher told us. Don't worry about the scoreboard. Worry about your play, your job on this play, and the scoreboard will be there. And I think as a team, it finally clicked this week. But Coach Fisher, one thing that has just amazed me about him is how he's able to gauge where his team is at and the message that they need to hear. And every week, he always does a great job of getting that message across. I think there's a couple of stubborn guys on the team, but it finally got threw to them tonight. It was just a great team win.
Q. Just on that final drive, as you're kind of sitting there, realizing more and more, this is probably going to come down to me, are you a guy who wants people coming up to you encouraging you, or are you saying, Give me all the space that I can get?
SETH SMALL: I mean, I prefer to just be my myself and -- not that I don't love the guys. If they come up to me, I tell them love you, Bro. I got you. But I was just repeating Psalms 23:1 to myself all night, which is: The lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. And that kind of comforted me. That's a moment I live for. I just kind of what to focus on that and then celebrate with them afterwards just so I can deliver on my part, that they've been delivering on their part all night long.
Q. After the tough time you guys have had the past couple of weeks, how much does a win like this tonight mean to you?
AINIAS SMITH: Oh, man, it means everything. You know, just giving us that confidence again, letting us know that, you know, we can do whatever we want. It's just, we've got to believe, and it all starts off in practice. Our week of practice this week was great. We just came in with the mentality that we have to win. And we was believing that throughout the whole game. And I believe it showed.
Q. I don't know how much you're in tune with it, but with maybe some of the negativity that's come Zach's way [Calzada] the past couple of weeks, when you hear the crowd chanting his name, and when you see him coming back in and everyone goes crazy, what does that mean to y'all? And what was going through your brain at that moment?
AINIAS SMITH: It felt like the whole world was on our side. Like 12th Man, you know, they're amazing. That game, the noise, everything. It was just -- I appreciate them. So I mean, it was great. It felt like -- it felt amazing.
Q. Ainias, you guys were able to break off some big plays tonight. That's kind of been something that's been hard to come by this so far this season. So what were you guys doing differently as wide receivers to get more open for Zach [Calzada]?
AINIAS SMITH: I guess you could say, we really wasn't doing nothing different. We just had to stick to what we've been taught this whole time. Just plan the next play, don't worry about what happened the last play. I guess you could say we were using our hands if that gives you an answer. We were using our hands to go ahead and get open. Yeah, that's it.
Q. Antonio said these are the types of games he always dreamed of playing. Do you feel the same way? And did it kind of live up to the expectations of hey, playing at Kyle Field, night game, number one team in the country? Can you kind of talk on that?
AINIAS SMITH: I could say after that game, I got a little emotional, because it was real personal to me, you know what I'm saying? If you know my story, you know it. And if you don't, well, shoot, you don't. But that's definitely a dream. Dream game, you know what I'm saying? And for that to be the result, it's amazing. Thank God, really.
Q. I know your story. Ainias, just talk a little bit about the celebration afterwards on the field and then how it carried over and just, you know, with the 12th Man and also with your teammates.
AINIAS SMITH: Yeah, man, the 12th Man, they're always giving us a little show, whether they're on our side or against us. But tonight, they were definitely with us. I appreciated them. With them rushing the field, that was crazy. As soon as I turned around, everybody was just right there in my face. And then shoot, now after that, just going in the locker room, celebrating with your brothers, your coaches, you know, people that you really fight with, you know what I'm saying? So it was a great feeling.
Q. I have two, if you don't mind. First off, can you talk about just how crucial it is to build off this next week when you go to Columbia and you're on the road?
AINIAS SMITH: Yeah, man, it's always going to be tough going on the road to try to get a win wherever you are in the SEC. So I mean, definitely this week, we prepared very well and we just have to come back this next week and prepare even better. So that's about it.
Q. And then could you talk about how big Jalen [Wydermyer] played tonight? Last week, he got his first touchdown. And for a guy that was just so dominating last year, it was kind of a dry spell for him. And then tonight, he also comes back and gets a couple of big touchdown catches. Just how he's kind of breaking out and the confidence that gives the offense.
AINIAS SMITH: Right. You know, Jalen, he's an amazing athlete, great player, great teammate, somebody that we can count on. Really just, his thing was not even worrying about what's happened in the past, you know what I'm saying? We just got to focus on the moment. So that's what he was doing. That's what we was doing as a team. He was playing great.
Q. Ainias, where can a win like this take you? I'm sure there's a lot more confidence and everything that comes with it as a team and an individual. Where can it take you from here?
AINIAS SMITH: Shoot, well, the plan is -- the plan has never changed. You know, we still want to go to that Natty (national championship)? So we went out. Yeah, yeah.
Q. Ainias, sometimes you don't always know what to get someone for their birthday. How important was it to get Jimbo Fisher a win on his birthday to help him become the first assistant to beat Nick Saban?
AINIAS SMITH: Everything, you know what time saying? Especially with the hype that was going on behind it. He wasn't thinking about that, but there was a lot of hype behind this game before the season even started. And for us to just get this win, it just shows something about him, shows something about us that we can fight and we never going to back down. So Merry Christmas.
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