COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There were many pieces to the puzzle in Texas A&M's final defensive stand in its upset of the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide last November, but Aggies remember one thing best: the interception.
Deshazor Everett's interception of A.J. McCarron at the goal line with 1:36 remaining helped the Aggies secure a 29-24 upset of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Life has changed significantly for Texas A&M football since then.
Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. The Aggies finished the season in the top five of the postseason rankings for the first time since 1956. They came into this season with a preseason top-10 ranking, and should they win on Saturday in their rematch against Alabama, they will vault themselves into the BCS title game discussion.
Everett hasn't become a celebrity like Manziel as a result of the interception, but people do recognize him more often these days.
"I'm not going to say I got too much fame now, but more people know who I am," Everett said. "As the season keeps progressing, people keep recognizing me across campus and on Twitter, Instagram and things. It hasn't blown up too much, but more people know me, definitely."
While the interception is the most memorable aspect of that final four-minute sequence, Everett pointed out that there were many other factors at work that led to that opportunity.
On the first play of that Alabama drive, McCarron found an open Kenny Bell for a 54-yard completion. But defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. chased Bell down from behind and tackled him at the Texas A&M 6-yard line.
Sean Porter and Kirby Ennis stopped a scrambling McCarron for no gain on first-and-goal. Ennis tackled Eddie Lacy for just a yard on the next play. And on third down, cornerback Dustin Harris might have made the second biggest play in that series, when McCarron scrambled from pressure and found open field, darting for the goal line. Harris collided with McCarron at the 2 to set up the fourth-and-goal play.
"They made a few plays, but I knew when we got down around the goal line that it was going to be about how bad our defense wanted it," Everett said. "As you see, everybody stepped up and made plays, got pressure on the quarterback and Dustin Harris stopped him [near] the goal line. A lot of people don't realize that. Toney Hurd made the saving tackle before Bell got into the end zone."
The interception didn't happen by chance. Everett and defensive coordinator Mark Snyder attributed it to weeks and weeks of practice.
The play that Alabama ran, flooding three receivers to the right flat, is a frequently used play for two-point conversions by teams across the country, according to Snyder. So the Aggies worked on defending it weekly. In this case, it was Amari Cooper and Bell who flooded the right side. Christion Jones, who lined up next to Cooper on the right side of the formation, appeared to run a short hitch route, not toward the right sideline like Cooper and Bell.
From the play design, it appeared that Cooper was supposed to pick Everett, which would leave Bell open. But Everett recognized the play, avoided the pick from Cooper and stepped in front of Bell.
"It was a two-point play that we've been working on every week up until that week," Everett said. "Coach [Snyder] was constantly making us run it and practice it in practice because, he said, everyone runs the play for a two-point play. Fortunately enough, they ran it as their fourth-down play and not a two-point play, and I just recognized it and jumped the route pretty much, and that's how it went."
Snyder was proud to see the Aggies' practice made for a perfect play in a crucial situation.
"We practice that every week," Snyder said. "It was great. Like I said after that game, it was one of the finest coaching moments I've had, because you see something that you actually work on come to fruition, and in a game like that, it was pretty special."
Everett wanted to run it back for a score to leave no doubt in the result but lost his balance after intercepting the pass, which was intended for Bell on a quick out route.
"I felt like everything went in slow motion after I caught it," he said. "I was trying to stay on my feet [laughs]. It was a lot of excitement. I just wish I would have returned it, so I wouldn't have to worry about the offense getting in punt formation [later] or being pushed back so far on the goal line. But, it was a good play. I felt good, definitely."
And having a player like Everett back for the rematch is huge for the Aggies.
"He brings a wealth of experience," Snyder said. "He's been on the big stage, he's played against the team we're getting ready to play against and performed pretty well, not great, but pretty well. And it's great to have him back because this corps of receivers will be the best we see all year. They're really good, and they're really fast."