Across the street from the ferris wheel at the South Carolina State Fair, Jace Sternberger took Steven Montac for a different kind of ride Saturday afternoon.
The Texas A&M tight end, after securing a first down catch in the second quarter against South Carolina, refused to be tackled. He kept driving his legs while Montac, a USC safety, kept trying to force a fumble.
“His arm was kind of caught,” Sternberger said following the Aggies’ 26-23 win at Williams-Brice Stadium, “so I really wasn’t going to let him go because I knew he wasn’t going to tackle me because his arm was trapped.”
Montac was eventually credited with the stop — but it came after a 53-yard gain. Sternberger dragged Montac for 20-plus yards. Asked if he had ever done that to a defender before, Sternberger laughed and replied, “Just my little brother. Never a football player.”
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It was that kind of day for both Sternberger and Gamecock defenders. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior finished with a career-high seven catches for 145 yards and a touchdown. It didn’t take him long to realize a special afternoon was brewing. All he did was listen to chatter from the opposition.
“Their safeties and (line)backers,” Sternberger said, “they kept miscommunicating on how they were going to guard me. ... After running a few routes, you kind of get a feel for it out there. And when they’re kind of arguing, it’s kind of easy to sense that they didn’t know what was going on.”
Such observation played a key role in a clutch situation on the Aggies’ game-sealing drive in the fourth quarter. Facing third-and-7 from its own 38-yard line, A&M quarterback Kellen Mond hit Sternberger through the middle for a 23-yarder. Six snaps later, the Aggies scored to increase their lead to 10 points. Only 1:36 remained.
It was an 11-play march that required just one third down conversion.
“They kept miscommunicating on how they were going to guard me and Trevor (Wood) when we were doing the two tight end set,” Sternberger said. “And I saw the safety go out wide and the backer come in, so I kind of had a pre-snap demeanor that it was going to be open.
“Me and Kellen, we rep that play so many times in practice, it was fine to finally get to run it in the game.”
Said Mond: “Jace is a super hard worker. I have a lot of confidence in the way he runs his routes. If we get a certain look, he’s starting to get more comfortable knowing when he’s going to get the ball.
“That’s really a big focus. The tight end is a big part of this offense. We fed him the ball a lot tonight.”
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher sensed the Gamecocks would sell out trying to stop Trayveon Williams and the Aggie running game. As a result, he figured Sternberger could find holes in the USC defense.
“I thought we’d have opportunities in the passing game,” Fisher said. “I thought we would, and we did.”