LSU Football defeats Texas A&M

LSU football freshman linebacker Sloan Wright (48) and senior cornerback Lloyd Cole (32) put their arms around head coach Ed Orgeron for his final game Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, during LSU's 27-24 win against Texas A&M at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

At halftime in the chilly, damp Baton Rouge night, LSU took the field with a 17-7 lead over rival Texas A&M in hand.

At their flank was Ed Orgeron, soaring down the field with arms out wide as if he were an airplane lining up his landing on the sideline strip. Even after all the turmoil of the past two seasons, the LSU head coach spent his last home game having fun.

The rainy night could have set up for a funeral pyre, waiting for Aggie touchdowns to light it ablaze as the Tigers pave the way for a new head coach to take over the program next season. Fans could have easily booed their sixth-year head coach off the field if things went south. After all, the team was 5-6 in a year marred with injuries and disappointing performances.

But Orgeron’s team played hard. Big hits and chunk plays got the crowd on their feet, and chants of "L-S-U" resounded throughout Death Valley’s cavernous walls once more. Instead of a funeral, it was a cheerful celebration. The river of purple and gold that flows through the valley on Saturdays in the fall absorbed the team’s energy and fostered a fitting sendoff to an era of mostly good memories of that irreplaceable 2019 season.

The river overflowed in the fourth quarter. After falling down 24-20, Max Johnson took the field with two minutes to play. LSU had to score to win.

A drive of an LSU fan’s wildest dreams ensued. Johnson completed five passes on the drive from the LSU 15, including a dime to his favorite target of the night, Jaray Jenkins. The 28-yard touchdown pass capped off a spectacular night for Jenkins, who caught eight passes for 169 yards and two of Johnson’s three touchdowns.

“Max [Johnson] threw the ball up, and I had to make a play,” Jenkins said. “He trusted in me. I believed in it. We had to come down with the catch.”

What followed was unmatched energy from fans, players and coaches alike. Drinks flew in the air, players jumped into each other’s arms and that purple and gold river fizzed with cheers. Senior captain linebacker Damone Clark’s ferocious sacks to finish Zach Calzada and the Aggies for good created further deafening noise to send Orgeron off in fairy tale fashion.

“It couldn’t have been drawn up any better,” Clark said. “It was a roller coaster season, but we stuck together, and we fought together. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Gathered in front of the student section, Orgeron and his players threw their arms over each other’s shoulders and sang the alma mater one last time. Cathartic is not a strong enough adjective to describe the scene.

As soon as Orgeron entered the press conference room in the locker room, he slammed on the podium with a huge grin.

“How ‘bout them Tigers!” he exclaimed. Amidst all of the stories and controversies, Orgeron was still as joyous as ever that his team fought and triumphed.

“I can’t say enough about our football team,” Orgeron said. “I can’t say enough about the 19 seniors. We always just kept on talking: ‘Keep on fighting. Keep on fighting, and something good is going to happen.’ What a way to end that game.”

He would go on to compliment so many of his players, from Jenkins’ huge evening to Clark’s tremendous season to his coaching staff, where he’ll leave the reins to Brad Davis, the team’s offensive line coach, to be the interim head coach for the team’s upcoming bowl game. All of it was living proof of how emotionally connected he had become with everyone who was a part of LSU.

“He’s done so many things for me in the development of me as a person, me as a man and just overall this team,” right tackle Austin Deculus, another senior, said. “We’re just extremely grateful for him.”

Orgeron didn’t want the postgame to be about him, but it had to be. He had no choice but to answer questions about his future. And given the events of the evening, with how raw and emotional the results played out, it was only fitting for him to give a very candid answer.

“I’m ready,” he said. “I just felt that this came out at the right time. We did what we were supposed to do at LSU: We won a championship. I was in total agreement with Scott [Woodward]. He came to me after Kentucky, but I knew it. May the next guy step in and do great, and I wish him all the best.”

The time of transition begins. Orgeron now steps out of the spotlight as the most famous man in Louisiana, and a fresh face will take his place. The loyal LSU fandom anxiously awaits the announcement of their next heir to the throne. In the meantime, as the rumors swirl, everyone will cherish the memory of this Saturday night in Death Valley for a while. Especially the players.

“It was unbelievable, especially there at the end,” senior center Liam Shanahan said. “Just with how the season’s gone, and we continued to fight. In many games, it didn’t go our way. So to have that fight finally rewarded with a win like that at home to make us bowl eligible, last game, senior night for us 19 seniors. This is really what all the time and work we’ve put into this is for. It feels really good to have something good come of it.”

The adoration Orgeron has for his team and his school is mutual. Just before the game-winning drive, a few fans sprawled open a large white sign in the corner that had spray painted in sizeable black letters: “THANK YOU COACH O, FOR 2019, BEST TEAM EVER SEEN.” A Mike the Tiger fitted with a No. 9 Joe Burrow jersey stood alongside the term of endearment. It seemed meant to be that Jenkins should catch the touchdown right in front of where the sign was revealed.

There was no sadness or animosity from Orgeron. No hints of spite or remorse. Just genuine affection for getting the deserved moment for his team’s work and accomplishments over this era of LSU football. Cathartic is not a strong enough adjective to describe the scene.

Maybe destined is more appropriate.

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