Much maligned all season long for its inability to defend the pass, Texas A&M junior LB Tyrel Dodson came to the rescue Monday night in the Gator Bowl.
Dodson provided the game-changing pick-6 and Trayveon Williams took care of the rest in the Aggies’ 52-13 victory over N.C. State. Cullen Gillaspia, the beloved former 12th man, capped the rout with a TD run in the final seconds of the game and his career.
Dodson raced 78 yards for a touchdown with his first interception of the season and fourth of his career to extend the Aggies’ lead to 28-13 after the Wolfpack took the second-half kick and drove for what appeared to be a potential touchdown to close the gap.
Dodson, whose three other career interceptions came last season, changed the complexion of the game with his heads-up play.
It took the wind out of the Wolfpack, and from there all eyes focused on Williams, who ran for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Williams needed 168 rushing yards to set the program’s single-season rushing record set in 1988 by Darren Lewis (1,692 yards).
Williams ran the ball on all five plays of Texas A&M’s ensuing 82-yard touchdown drive, including 38-yard dash that set up a 17-yard touchdown run as Williams closed in on the record while extending the Aggies’ lead to 35-13.
He accomplished the record in electrifying fashion. After a Wolfpack punt pinned the Aggies on their own 7-yard line, Williams took a handoff and broke through the Wolfpack defense for a 93-yard touchdown run, pushing him past the record at 236 yards while lifting the Aggies’ lead to 42-13 with still nearly an entire fourth quarter still to play.
Williams set the Gator Bowl record for yards rushing, eclipsing the 216 yards compiled by legendary Floyd Little of Syracuse in the 1966 Gator Bowl against SEC foe Tennessee.
Both teams finish the 2018 season with 9-4 records.
Early in the opening period, Williams, the leading rusher in the SEC, set the Aggies’ single-season all-purpose yardage record with a 10-yard carry. He needed just five yards to surpass Cyrus Gray’s 2010 mark of 1,806 all-purpose yards.
It was the first meeting between the two teams, but Jimbo Fisher is no stranger to North Carolina State. As head coach at Florida State, Fisher went 5-3 against the Wolfpack. Add another one to the win column.
When Kellen Mond raced 62 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the game and Texas A&M drove to the Wolfpack 39-yard line on its second drive, thoughts of another SEC bowl rout began dancing in the heads of a healthy contingency of the “12th Man” that made the trek east to Florida.
Everything was going the Aggies’ way early, but the Wolfpack made a game of it for one half. They answered with an impressive 12-play, 71-yard drive that took nearly 6 minutes off the clock and culminated in a 43-yard field goal by Christopher Dunn that cut the Aggies’ lead to 7-3.
Then on the following possession, Mond’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and plucked out of the air by DL Eurndraus Bryant at the Aggies’ 27-yard line. It took the Wolfpack five plays to reach the end zone and take the lead with WR C.J. Riley making a one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone on a pass from QB Ryan Finley, the ACC’s leading passer.
The Wolfpack made it 13-7 on the next possession, driving 35 yards in seven plays. Dunn nailed a 49-yard field goal with 10:45 left in the second quarter and the Aggies appeared to be in for a fight.
But after going seven overtimes with LSU, the Aggies learned the meaning of the word. They went 60 yards in four plays to regain the lead midway into the second quarter. Williams ripped off a 30-yard run and then capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Seth Small’s PAT kick put the Aggies back in front, 14-13.
Then an inconsistent Mond, to that point, suddenly found his rhythm. He completed 5 of 6 passes, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Rogers with 32 seconds remaining, and the Aggies took a 21-13 lead at halftime.
It was textbook Aggies football, an 11-play, 72-yard drive that ate up 5:15 of the clock. Mond helped his own cause by ripping off a 17-yard run. He accounted for 224 yards in the first half, including 142 passing to go along with 82 rushing.
Small missed on a 52-yard field goal attempt to end the first half after Aggies’ DB Leon O’Neal Jr., playing for the injured Donovan Wilson, intercepted a Finley pass and returned it 25 yards.