COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Tre Mason knew he wasn't down.
On his final carry against Texas A&M, Auburn's junior running back kept churning his feet, fighting for every inch and ultimately stretching the ball across the goal line for a touchdown. Mason's 5-yard touchdown run with 1:19 remaining proved to be the final score of a game that wasn't short on them, lifting No. 24 Auburn to an upset of No. 7 Texas A&M 45-41 and giving the Tigers their first road win in more than two years.
Mason admitted he wasn't going to be satisfied with anything less than a score.
"I was greedy for those six points," he said. "I was actually rolling on (center) Reese Dismukes' back. I knew I wasn't on the ground because I was on top of him."
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The junior center made sure to let the officials hear his thoughts on the play.
"Yeah, Reese was yelling under (me), 'He's in, he's in,'" Mason said. "That's my guy. They did well up front, so I have to do my job and make big plays."
How big was this play?
Mason said it wasn't just one of the best moments of his playing career. It was more than that.
Yes, Mason said the go-ahead score was "one of the highlights of my life."
The fact that head coach Gus Malzahn gave the ball to him given the circumstances — with Texas A&M ahead 41-38 and less than a minute and a half left on the clock — meant the world to Mason. It was a responsibility Mason said added to the pressure he already puts on himself.
"I feel like Coach Malzahn has trust in me," said Mason, who led all players with game-highs of 27 carries and 178 yards. "I've got to show (it) and give him a reason why he trusts me. I tried to do that. In crunch-time, put me in the game. I'm going to do something with it and I'm going to make sure the team win."
While Mason's touchdown put the Tigers (6-1, 3-1) on top, it didn't seal the victory for the Tigers. That job was left to the defense. And it was an unenviable task: Stop the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, a master of leading game-winning drives.
But the situation didn't overwhelm the defense; rather, the Tigers overwhelmed the Aggies, especially up front. After getting the ball down to Auburn's 18-yard line, Manziel led Texas A&M no further, as Auburn came up with a pair of sacks — both courtesy of senior defensive end Dee Ford. The latter sack was the game-clincher, as Ford grabbed Manziel and dropped him 22 yards behind the line of scrimmage on fourth down.
Ford wasn't worried that the Tigers gave the Aggies (5-2, 2-2) the ball back with too much time remaining. He had too much faith in the defense — and in himself — to let that thought ever cross his mind.
So what was he thinking prior to Texas A&M's final possession?
"I can make plays like (Manziel) can make plays," he said. "That’s my big thing. If I want to be a big-time player, big-time players make big-time plays at big times."
To a man, every Auburn player shared Ford's confidence. They knew they were going to win because they would wear the Aggies down in the second half.
It was an outcome Ford said Malzahn predicted, to the letter, prior to the team leaving its hotel Saturday morning.
"He said, ‘We’re in better shape. We roll more people. We’re going to beat them in the fourth quarter,’" Ford recalled. "He said that, and that’s why I admire this coaching change and I really admire him. He’s a great coach and he knows football."
The only thing Malzahn doesn't claim to know is his team's ranking in the pecking order of the college football landscape. He praised everything about Texas A&M — Manziel, its plethora of options on offense and it's environment at Kyle Field. The Aggies "are a top-10" team, Malzahn said.
Perish the thought of Malzahn talking up his own team, though.
Auburn will continue to let its play speak for itself.
"I'll let everybody else decide that," he said. " ... We've not arrived yet. We've gotten better each week. We want to continue to get better, and I think we can if we stay healthy. But like I said, we'll take it one step at a time, then we'll look back at the end of the year and figure everything out."