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Texas A&M holds off Northwestern in Meineke Car Care Bowl

Jan 1, 2012 - 5:32 AM Houston, TX (Sports Network) - Ryan Tannehill threw for 329 yards and a touchdown, as Texas A&M survived a late Northwestern charge to win Saturday's Meineke Car Care Bowl, 33-22.

Trailing 30-7, Northwestern scored 15 straight points to make it a one- possession game with 5:22 remaining. But Tannehill and the Aggies (7-6) answered with a lengthy drive, converting a pair of 3rd-and-longs and burning nearly five minutes of clock before Randy Bullock nailed a 31-yard field goal to seal the victory.

Dan Persa threw for 213 yards and Kain Colter ran for 75 yards and a score and added a touchdown pass for the Wildcats (6-7), who were seeking their first bowl win in 63 years.

"We were disappointed that we didn't win, but our fans came down to Houston to support this great community, and hopefully our football program showed why we should have been here," said Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "Disappointed, obviously, in the outcome of the game; I haven't seen the final stats, but it comes down to self-inflicted wounds on our part."

Texas A&M, meanwhile, captured its first bowl victory since 2001, capping a tumultuous season which featured the firing of head coach Mike Sherman, the death of offensive lineman Joe Villavisencio and lingering anticipation of a move to the SEC.

"It's been a tough month for Texas A&M football," said Aggies defensive coordinator and acting head coach Tim DeRuyter. "With us losing coach Sherman and to have our staff rally like they did was extremely impressive to me."

The Aggies led 20-7 at the half and extended their advantage with Ben Malena's 19-yard touchdown run and Bullock's 47-yarder in the third. But they faltered in the fourth, threatening to continue a year-long trend of second-half collapses.

This season, A&M blew double-digit leads to Arkansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas. Tannehill's interception -- by Brian Peters -- on the second play of the fourth hinted at a looming collapse, as Colter plunged across the goal line minutes later and a successful two-point conversion made it 30-15.

The Wildcats did not recover the ensuing onsides kick, but did force an Aggies three-and-out. They then marched 80 yards to paydirt. Persa converted a 4th- and-1 during the drive before Colter found Tim Riley on a 3rd-and-goal rollout to cut the deficit to 30-22.

But the Aggies closed strong. After a false start on 3rd-and-8, Tannehill found Uzoma Nwachukwu for 21 yards. Later in the drive, he converted a 3rd- and-6 with a sideline pass to Jeff Fuller. Bullock's game-sealing field goal split the uprights with 30 seconds remaining.

Bullock also had a 24-yarder in the first quarter, putting A&M on top until Venric Mark's two-yard TD run made it 7-3 early in the second.

The Aggies responded with 17 straight points. Ryan Swope's 37-yard, rumbling reception set up Malena's short TD plunge, Fuller hauled in a 26-yard scoring pass and Bullock tacked on a 40-yarder seconds before the break.

Game Notes

This was the first-ever meeting between the teams...Texas A&M secured its first bowl win since defeating TCU in the Bowl in 2001...The Aggies will officially join the SEC on July 1, 2012. They will play in the conference's Western Division...A&M hired former Houston coach Kevin Sumlin as Sherman's replacement...Villavisencio was killed in a car accident on December 22...The Wildcats haven't won a bowl game since capturing the 1949 Rose Bowl.