COLLEGE STATION - The slow and gingerly movements of Texas A&M senior linebacker Mark Dodge on Saturday perfectly captured what the Aggies had gone through for 4 hours and 21 minutes against Fresno State.
The co-elder statesman of the Aggies at 26, Dodge entered the postgame news conference dragging his right leg, which was weighed down with ice bags, and pressing his left arm tightly against his body.
The 23rd-ranked Aggies had been in a heck of a fight and were fortunate to come away with a 47-45 triple-overtime victory over the Bulldogs in front of a crowd of 75,922 at Kyle Field.
A&M and its fans weren't able to exhale until safety Devin Gregg knocked away Fresno State quarterback Tom Brandstater's pass intended for Marlon Moore in the corner of the end zone, thwarting a two-point conversion attempt.
A series earlier, the Aggies (2-0) rode their ultimate late-game buster - 277-pound running back Jorvorskie Lane - for a 3-yard touchdown run, then converted the mandatory two-point try to put the pressure on Fresno State.
The victory erased A&M's frustration at allowing the Bulldogs to fight back from a 19-0 halftime deficit to knot the game at 29 by the end of regulation.
"That was definitely a hard-fought war," said Dodge, an Army veteran who left the game at least three times Saturday because of a variety of injuries. "They came to play that second half. We were a little slow in reacting, and we just had to fight and fight. Luckily, it turned out for us."
But during much of the second half and throughout the three OT periods, Fresno State matched the Aggies' resolve. The Bulldogs (1-1) stormed back on the strength of a relentless ground game and Brandstater's ability to find open receivers.
In fact, the game appeared all but won by the Bulldogs when Brandstater hit Moore on a crossing pattern for a 24-yard gain in the first overtime. Moore lost control of the ball as he tried to stretch it across the goal line before stepping out of bounds. The ball rolled into the end zone, with the Aggies recovering, but the officials said Moore stepped out of bounds before the fumble, which would have given the Bulldogs the ball at the 1.
Final ruling: a late hitBut after two reviews of the play by the Western Athletic Conference officiating crew, the call on the field was overturned. A&M got no benefit from the fumble recovery, however, because defensive lineman Henry Smith had been called for a late hit on Brandstater, allowing the Bulldogs to keep the ball. They eventually get a 25-yard field goal from Clint Stitser to match an earlier 27-yarder by the Aggies' Matt Szymanski, forcing a second overtime.
"I would like to think we would have found a way to keep playing," said Franchione, who convinced the officials to review the play a second time after they originally were going to let the call on the field stand. "But you don't want to be in that situation."
Fresno State coach Pat Hill, who wasn't too pleased with the reversal by his conference's officials, was much more subdued after the game.
"The object of our program is always to win," said Hill, whose team is 10-20 against BCS conference schools during his tenure. "We've got a great young football team, and hopefully we can build on this."
The Aggies, meanwhile, came away still concerned about their passing game but feeling good about their ability to will their way on the ground. The trio of quarterback Stephen McGee, running back Mike Goodson and Lane combined to help A&M rush for 318 yards.
McGee led the way on the ground for the second week in a row with 124 yard on 16 carries. But Lane was the workhorse down the stretch, finishing with 121 yards and all four of the team's rushing touchdowns on 23 carries.
Lane was especially effective in the overtime periods, when his clashes with defenders seemed to wear down the Bulldogs. He ran up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown to force the third overtime.
"That's every running back's dream," said Lane, who also scored touchdowns on runs of 18 and 5 yards in regulation. "But I have to thank my O-line. I give them credit for all the touchdowns."
The Aggies essentially abandoned the pass during the overtime periods, throwing the ball just once.
'Whatever it takes'McGee made no apologies and became testy with reporters when questioned about the one-dimensional approach of the coaching staff.
"I'm so tired of hearing (about throwing it more)," said McGee, who completed 13 of 24 passes for 79 yards and one touchdown. "When it comes down to it, we're a team. We're going to do whatever it takes to win.
"Today we did that. That's what it comes down to: getting the ball into the end zone. Offensively, we ran the ball every freakin' time, and they did not stop us. I wouldn't see us doing anything different. That's what we are about: getting the ball in the end zone."