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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M defeats Kent State in 2021 roster debut

Photo by Courtesy of Abbey Santoro/Texas A&M Division of Marketing & Communications

On Saturday, Sept. 4 Aggies filled the stands of Kyle Field wearing red, white and blue for the first home football game of the season. Aggies recreated the historic 2001 memorial game in honor of those who lost their lives on 9/11. 

Texas A&M football kicked off the 2021 season with a 41-10 win over the Kent State Golden Flashes. The Aggies hosted their second “Red, White and Blue” game since Sept. 22, 2001, where they beat Oklahoma State, 21-7. 

A&M went into Saturday’s game with high expectations after finishing last season with a 9-1 record and an Orange Bowl win over the Tar Heels. The Golden Flashes finished the 2020 season 3-1, only being allowed four games before their season was cut short due to COVID-19. 

Starting quarterback Haynes King went 6-6 for 49 yards to open the game, ending the 10-play drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to junior wide-out Ainias Smith. In the same drive, junior running back Isaiah Spiller reached 2,000 career rushing yards on a 19-yard run. With that, Spiller became the 21st player in A&M history to rush for 2,000 yards.

Having a full crowd again was a huge asset for the Aggies on the field, Spiller said. 

“It felt great,” said Spiller. “You know, just everybody out there supporting us. The 12th Man gave us the extra player on the field.”

The first quarter was full of ‘firsts’ for the Aggies. True freshman defensive lineman Shemar Turner recorded his first collegiate sack, putting an end to a long Kent State drive strung together by graduate quarterback Dustin Crum. In the same quarter, King sprinted 13-yards for his first collegiate run as starting quarterback. 

The second quarter marked a rough patch for the Aggies, filled with empty drives and multiple turnovers. Sophomore running back Devon Achane was stopped short on a 4th-and-1 early in the second by the Kent State defensive line. King followed up the turnover by throwing two interceptions later in the second, both to Kent State senior cornerback Elvis Hines. Going into the halftime break, the momentum suddenly changed with a pick by senior safety Leon O’Neal.

After a rough first half, the team needed to make some adjustments, A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said. The key to turning things around in the second half, Fisher said, was not worrying about the score or making big plays.

“Go back to your fundamentals,” Fisher said. “Sometimes, we started doing too much. Put your hat where it is supposed to be, put your eyes where they’re supposed to be and play each down one play at a time.”

A&M’s tempo started hot in the third. The maroon and white forced a three-and-out and put down a 36-yard field goal from senior kicker Seth Small. O’Neal seized his second pick of the night, taking it 85 yards to the opposite end zone and becoming a huge “spark” for the Aggies. Following the interception return, Achane recorded his longest run of the night on a 63-yard sprint for a touchdown. One drive later, King connected with junior wide receiver Caleb Chapman on a 53-yard dime for his longest throw of the night. 

King ended the game throwing 21-33 for 292 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Both running backs had a successful night on the ground, with Achane running 124 yards on only 12 carries and two touchdowns; Spiller finished with 113 yards on 17 attempts. Smith became King’s favorite target of the night, catching eight passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns. 

On defense, O’Neal stole the show. He ended the night with four total tackles, one of which was for loss, two interceptions and a touchdown. 

O’Neal’s return for the touchdown wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for his teammates, he said. 

“They knew how much I wanted to get in that end zone,” O’Neal said. “I wake up every single day and go hard for them and the 12th Man. That’s the power and motivation I receive to do what I do.” 

A&M will travel to Denver, Colo. on Sept. 11 for its next game against the 1-0 Colorado Buffaloes.

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