Texas A&M didn’t start the Orange Bowl like it had something to prove, but that changed by the fourth quarter.

The Aggies looked uninspired early, perhaps a result of feeling they should be playing elsewhere. Whatever the case, North Carolina had a touchdown lead despite missing a few of its best players.

With running back Isaiah Spiller sidelined late because of a leg injury, anxiety was beginning to rise in Aggieland. That is until his replacement, freshman Devon Achane, broke free for a 76-yard touchdown run to put them up. Achane’s touchdown proved to be the push A&M needed as they rode that momentum secure a 41-27 victory.

The Aggies seemed to wake up in the final quarter, as they outscored the Tar Heels 24-7. That includes 21 unanswered points after Josh Downs’ 75-yard touchdown catch put UNC up 27-20.

The offense responded immediately.

Ainias Smith used his speed and agility to juke a couple of players on a 54-yard reception the very next drive. That set up a 4-yard touchdown run from quarterback Kellen Mond to tie the game. A couple of drives later, the Achane score put A&M up for good.

The defense also stood its ground. After allowing the 75-yard touchdown, the Aggies forced a pair of punts as well as two turnovers on downs to end the game.

Achane added another touchdown late, further securing his status as the game’s most outstanding player. The last seconds ticked off the clock and Jimbo Fisher sprinted so fast to avoid a Gatorade shower that he jokingly said he pulled his hamstring. It was a scene that had to bring joy to Aggie fans.

To win the Orange Bowl in your 3rd season at any program is no small feat. It’s only a sign of what is to come with Fisher at the helm. This program is growing and should continue to establish itself as one of the top teams in the SEC each year.

Smith, Spiller, Jalen Wydermeyer and Achane all return for next season. Mond is a senior, as are 4 of the 5 offensive lineman. They could technically come back for another year, though exactly how that will work remains to be seen.

Either way, A&M has to feel as if it is in good hands.

The Aggies have had top-10 recruiting classes nationally for each of the years that Fisher has been here. Next year they welcome a ton of talent defensively, as well as a couple of 4-star offensive linemen. They also have the No. 5 overall quarterback from the 2020 class in Haynes King. He could be Mond’s successor.

But before we look ahead to next year too much, this season should be appreciated.

We watched Mond break several school records. We watched the emergences of Smith and Spiller. We saw a team that refused to bend to the pressure of constantly trying to prove itself.

We watched the Aggies win the Orange Bowl.

No matter how close they were to more, that’s still a season that will be remembered for a long time. Through the opt-outs, COVID complications and injuries, this team managed to keep itself in the hunt. The bowl win assured the Aggies will finish higher than even Johnny Manziel’s best team did in 2012.

We saw that for a final time on Saturday. With their backs against the wall, A&M delivered during the most important part of the game. The victory extended the win streak to 8 games, and there’s no reason to think they can’t build on that next season.

For now, they’ll get to enjoy this victory and reflect on what a special season this was. More are on the way.