In the final Big 12 Conference game between Texas Tech and Texas A&M on Saturday, Tech kicker Donnie Carona took center stage.
For much of the night, Carona was a saving grace for the Red Raiders offense. He tied a Tech record with four field goals, becoming the program’s first kicker to reach the mark since 1998.
But after converting his first three attempts, Carona’s initial try for field goal No. 4 turned into a disaster, a turning point in the final chapter of the storied Big 12 rivalry.
With Tech trailing the Aggies, 31-23, with five minutes left in the third quarter, Carona lined up for a 50-yard attempt — he had made two kicks from 49 yards out earlier in the contest.
“He had made a couple long ones,” Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “That’s the reason we thought we could kick the 50-yarder.”
But after a high snap — which Carona said was not a factor on the play – the kick was blocked by Texas A&M defensive back Dustin Harris. Texas A&M’s Terrence Frederick then scooped up the loose ball and ran untouched for a 63-yard score, helping the Aggies finish the intense series against the Red Raiders with a 45-40 victory at rowdy Jones AT&T Stadium.
A converted field goal would have cut the Tech deficit to five points. Instead, in a flash, the Red Raiders were standing in a 15-point hole.
“You can’t give up a touchdown in a game like this on special teams,” Tuberville said. “If you do, 90 percent of the time you will lose.”
The attempt was made more difficult when Tech committed a false start penalty before Carona could attempt a 45-yarder. Forced to kick at a lower trajectory five yards back, Carona couldn’t get his kick above Harris’ outstretched hand. The Tech kicker was the only player on the field with a chance to catch Frederick as he raced to the end zone, but, like the Red Raiders on Saturday, he came up short.
“Phenomenal, phenomenal play in the game,” Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. “(It) really was a deciding factor in the game if you want to look at it.”
Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he thought the Aggies were lined up offside on the play, and Carona said he was surprised Harris arrived as quickly as they did on the kick.
“I don’t know how (Harris) got there so fast, but he did,” Carona said.
The block and subsequent return were the only blights on an otherwise solid special-teams performance from Tech.
Carona’s record-tying fourth field goal — a 30-yarder, which caromed off the left upright — cut A&M’s lead to 45-33 with about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Tech scored again with less than a minute to go, and the Red Raiders had life until the Aggies recovered Carona’s onside kick with 31 seconds left.
The kicking game had hardly been a part of Tech’s offense through the first four games of the season. Carona — who was a perfect 5-for-5 on extra-point attempts — entered Saturday having attempted just three field goals, converting two of them.
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