You didn't think Johnny Manziel would let a New Year's Eve stage go by without putting on a show, did you?
The redshirt sophomore quarterback for the Aggies closed the curtain on 2013 with a spectacular performance in a 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta, Ga. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and 2013 finalist completed 30-of-38 passes for 382 yards, four touchdowns, rushed 11 times for 73 yards and another touchdown on the ground.
Not a bad night's work—but one that was necessary for the Aggies to take down Duke.
The Aggies' defense let Manziel down time and time again in the first half, but Manziel kept fighting, giving his team a puncher's chance. The defense finally came through in the end, when safety Toney Hurd Jr. picked off a pass from Blue Devil quarterback Anthony Boone and took it 55 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Now three years removed from high school, Manziel's next item on the agenda is to decide whether to make the jump to the NFL. He was noncommittal after the game.
"I can't think of anything other than this game right now," Manziel said. "This is unreal. I can't even begin to tell you how proud I am of these guys. I love Texas A&M. I love my teammates. Unreal."
What was even more unreal was the play of Manziel, who sliced and diced the Duke defense to lead his team back from a 21-point halftime deficit, throwing only one incompletion in the second half.
Included in his heroics was a touchdown pass for the ages, as Manziel took off up the middle, jumped into his own offensive lineman, popped out and hit Travis Labhart for a 19-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.
"When I left my feet originally, I thought I was in a little bit of trouble, because I looked down and somebody from Duke was staring right up at me laying on the ground," he said. "From there, I don't really know what happened. I just shot backwards and bounced off of somebody and got out of there and saw Lab [Travis Labhart] sitting wide open."
He didn't know what he was doing, but his head coach did.
"That...that's coaching," Kevin Sumlin said.
The play resembled the one that put him on the map: the fumble, scramble touchdown to Ryan Swope in last season's upset win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
If this was it for Manziel, what a way to bookend a career—polishing off Duke with a signature play to the one that put him on the map in the first place.
So is this the end?
He may not have been thinking about anything other than the game in the minutes following the comeback victory, but that may be because he has already made up his mind.
"I feel like I showed them that I can beat one-on-one coverage," he said. "I know if a jump happens or whenever the decision comes that they like to play some man in the NFL, no doubt. We did a great job in the second half, receivers ran great routes, continued to get open, and I tried to put it on them as much as I could."
It looked bleak at times, but Manziel put on a show on New Year's Eve under the big top at the Georgia Dome. If the book on his college career closes in the coming days, he got his storybook ending.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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