TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Johnny Football and the SEC newbies from Texas A&M took down the biggest bully in their new neighborhood and left No. 1 Alabama with badly bruised national championship hopes.
Johnny Manziel, better known around Texas as Johnny Football, staked the 15th-ranked Aggies to a three-touchdown lead in the first quarter, and Texas A&M held on to beat the Crimson Tide, 29-24, on Saturday.
The Aggies (8-2, 5-2), playing in the Southeastern Conference for the first season after ditching the Big 12, also might have ended the league’s run of BCS titles at six years.
The defending national champion Crimson Tide (9-1, 6-1), who have been No. 1 almost all season and had won 13 straight, didn’t go quietly.
AJ McCarron nearly pulled off a second straight scintillating comeback. He threw one touchdown pass and motored the ball downfield before Deshazor Everett stepped in front of his fourth-down pass at the goal line with 1:36 left.
Manziel passed for 253 yards and rushed for 92, confounding the Tide defense with his ability to keep plays alive as the Aggies scored the game’s first 20 points.
‘‘No moment is too big for him,’’ coach Kevin Sumlin said of his remarkable redshirt freshman.
The Aggies had been 1-10 against top-ranked teams with the only previous win coming over Oklahoma, 30-26, in 2002, but Manziel and Sumlin have entered the SEC with speed and swagger — and fit right in.
‘‘They played a tremendous game and certainly outplayed us,’’ Tide coach Nick Saban said.
Alabama managed a second-shot national title after losing to LSU just over a year ago in the regular season but seems a long shot to do it again. Alabama would have secured a spot in the SEC championship game with a victory and only Western Carolina and Auburn remaining.
‘‘Two of the three national championship teams that I coached lost a game,’’ Saban said, counting one at LSU. ‘‘This team still has an opportunity to win the West and go to the SEC championship game and win a championship. There’s still a lot for this team to play for.’’
Now, the Tide will have to beat the Tigers to clinch the West and get into the SEC title game. As for the national title, Alabama will have to hope for another shakeup in the form of losses by Kansas State, Oregon, and Notre Dame. For now though, the SEC is on the outside looking in at the BCS title race. Thanks to Manziel & Co.
Alabama kept coming back, but never caught up with the slippery, speedy Manziel and the Aggies.
The nation’s top scoring defense, forced a punt with less than a minute left, but A&M never had to kick it away. The Tide was penalized for offsides, giving Texas A&M a first down and a chance to kneel out the clock.
‘‘The players were told ‘make sure you stay onsides, they are going to try to get you to jump offsides with a shift or a motion or something,’ ’’ Saban said.
McCarron breathed life into Alabama with a 54-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to freshman Amari Cooper to make it 29-24 with 4:29 left.
A quick three-and-out by the Aggies put the ball in McCarron’s hands again. He opened at the 40 with a 54-yarder to speedster Kenny Bell down to the 6. Two scrambles and an Eddie Lacy run left one final shot from the 2 against a Texas A&M defense often overshadowed by its potent offense.
He had some time on third down, rolling left but finding Lacy well covered and having to try running it, a la Manziel, before Dustin Harris stopped him at the 2. He got one more shot, but Everett made the play on a pass toward the front corner of the end zone.
‘‘This is one of those meaningful experiences where when you reflect back on your college career, you say ‘We did something great,’ ’’ Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore said.