COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- — During a speaking engagement this spring Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher used colorful language to proclaim his team would beat Alabama during coach Nick Saban's career.
He fulfilled that promise in his first try since that vow Saturday night, handing the defending national champions their first loss since 2019 in a thrilling upset.
“Our team beat a really good football team ... and that’s what’s important to me," Fisher said.
The victory came on Fisher's 56th birthday and is certainly Texas A&M's biggest win since Fisher took over in 2018.
“I didn’t know what to get him, so we thought as a team that we should get a win for him," Small said.
Texas A&M (4-2, 1-2) tied it at 38 when Zach Calzada connected with Ainias Smith for a 25-yard touchdown with three minutes left. Calzada was hit as he threw the strike and had to be helped off the field but returned for the next drive after a visit to the medical tent.
Calzada returned after the Aggies forced a punt to orchestrate the winning drive, highlighted by a 17-yard pass to Isaiah Spiller before Small finished it off to send fans streaming onto the field to celebrate.
“I'm proud of our guys," Fisher said. “We made plays at critical times."
Calzada threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns, as the former backup played like a star. Devon Achane returned a kickoff 96 yards for a TD in the third quarter and A&M's defense got after Bryce Young all night.
“This is a great win," Achane said. “It shows us that we’re capable of doing great things."
Smith finished with 85 yards receiving and two scores and Jalen Wydermyer had 73 yards receiving and a TD to help the Aggies to the win.
Alabama hadn’t lost since falling 48-45 to Auburn on Nov. 30, 2019.
“Everyone needs to remember how they feel and not forget it,” Saban said.
It’s the first time Saban has lost to one of his assistants after entering the game a perfect 24-0 in those games. He’d beaten Fisher four times, the most of any of his former staffers.
“It doesn't mean anything to me," Fisher said about ending the former assistants streak. “Our football team is learning to play against other great football teams and have success. That’s what matters to me.”
Texas A&M also ended Alabama’s streak of 100 wins over unranked teams, dating to a win over Colorado in the 2007 Independence Bowl to cap Saban’s first season.
The Aggies entered the season ranked sixth and gunning for Alabama after the Crimson Tide handed them their only loss last season. But by last week it looked as if this would be a lost season for the Aggies after consecutive defeats by Arkansas and Mississippi State sent them tumbling out of the Top 25.
But instead of falling into a bigger hole this week, the Aggies pulled off the upset to snap an eight-game skid against Alabama. It’s their first win in the series since Johnny Manziel’s spectacular performance led them to a 29-24 win in 2012 on the road when the Crimson Tide was also ranked first.
“We had a couple of tough weeks ... (but) you’re defined by how you respond to adversity," Fisher said.
Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy that season, was among the 106,815 fans at Kyle Field on Saturday night to watch the Aggies beat the Crimson Tide at home for the first time ever. A&M’s first win in the series came in a 20-16 win in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1968.
Manziel was among those celebrating on the field after the game in the wild postgame party.
The 17 1/2-point underdogs gained control of this one early, racing out to a 24-10 halftime lead behind two takeaways and a splendid start by Calzada. A&M’s 24 points in the first half were the most Alabama had allowed to an unranked opponent before halftime during Saban’s tenure.
“There were a lot of issues," Saban said.
Young threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns and Williams had 146 yards receiving. Brian Robinson Jr. added 147 yards rushing.
But the Aggies took the blow and responded immediately with one of their own. Achane zig-zagged through two waves of defenders and then displayed the elite speed that lets him double as a sprinter on the track team to simply outrun everyone to make it 31-17 with eight minutes left in the third.
“The hole was so big," Achane said. “It was like is this for me?"
Young then capped a 75-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass Williams to cut the lead to 31-24. Williams put his finger to his lips to shush the crowd after the score.
Alabama has some things to clean up to get back on track and try to get a chance to defend its title. The Aggies must be kicking themselves that they didn’t play better in the last two weeks so this win could have meant a lot more.
Alabama is certainly to fall a few spots in the poll after the loss and getting a win over the defending champs should be enough to get the Aggies back in the Top 25.
Alabama: At Mississippi State on Saturday night.
Texas A&M: At Missouri on Saturday.
Kelly, Smart explain tough road to SEC champ game
Ahead of the SEC Championship, No. 1 UGA's Kirby Smart and No. 14 LSU's Brian Kelly join SEC Now and discuss the difficulty of reaching a conference championship.
College football championships - Utah vs. USC live updates, playoff takeaways
It's a high-stakes championship weekend in college football. The Pac-12 title game is the first with huge College Football Playoff implications.
CFB conference title games: Top NFL draft prospects, big questions
Which prospects have a chance to make a statement in this weekend's conference championships, from the SEC to the MAC? Our NFL draft experts weigh in.
Memo: SEC didn't prohibit hiring of Hugh Freeze in 2018
The SEC did not prohibit the hiring of Hugh Freeze immediately after he resigned from Ole Miss, but did place conditions and restrictions related to Freeze if an SEC school had chosen to hire him at that point, according to a 2018 memo obtained by ESPN.
South Carolina standout CB Cam Smith declares for 2023 NFL draft
South Carolina junior cornerback Cam Smith, Mel Kiper Jr.'s No. 19 overall prospect for 2023, is declaring for the NFL draft.
Arkansas' KJ Jefferson says he'll return to school in 2023
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson said he'll return to school in 2023, writing on Instagram that his dreams "wouldn't be complete without one more year on The Hill."