Texas Drops a Thriller in Dallas, 29-24

The OU game is a weird one every year, at least in recent history. Who could foresee the insanely lopsided Oklahoma victories in 2011 and again the following year? Who had Case McCoy and a not-so-great Texas team pummeling the No. 10 Sooners in 2013? Did anyone think Charlie Strong’s 1-4 team could beat the 4-0 OU in 2015? Like the best rivalries, these two teams are essentially 0-0 coming into the game every year; the best team doesn’t always win.

The 2017 edition of the 117-year rivalry was notably different before the game even began. For the first time since 1947, two first-year coaches met at the Cotton Bowl. For only the third time in Texas history—but for the second consecutive year—a true freshman started at quarterback in what is now called the AT&T Red River Showdown.

The first half was a tale of two quarters. No one would call you crazy if, after looking at Texas’ 19 yards of offense to OU’s 225 after 15 minutes of play, you assumed that the orange half of the Cotton Bowl would be sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-35 by halftime. But after the Texas defense, worn out but not defeated by the Sooners’ stranglehold on time of possession, staved off a pair of deep OU drives, the offense had an opportunity to pounce.

Running back Kyle Porter, looking sharp in his new duties as kick returner, took one ensuing kickoff 41 yards and was hit late out of bounds, giving Texas great field position. The Sooners followed that penalty with another costly one, on a horse-collar tackle of Ehlinger. A minute later, Ehlinger, under duress, hit Porter for 16 yards and a touchdown.

On the following drive, though, it looked like Oklahoma was going to drive right back down the field. OU quarterback Baker Mayfield had not been intercepted on the season until junior safety John Bonney jumped a route to swing momentum back Texas’ way. The Longhorns couldn’t get the ball into the end zone, but luckily came away with a 34-yard field goal from Joshua Rowland to narrow OU’s lead to 20-10.

The Texas defense came on strong again in the second half, and, despite Breckyn Hager nearly nabbing Mayfield’s second pick of the game and season before dropping it, the Longhorns held OU to a field goal for the third time deep in its own territory.

Leaning heavily on Chris Warren on passing plays, Texas drove swiftly down the field, helped by OU’s third personal foul of the day, a roughing the passer penalty that put Texas deep in Oklahoma territory. Warren punched it in from one yard out to cut OU’s lead to 6.

Early in the 4th quarter, Michael Dickson uncorked a beautiful 62-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the OU 2. Getting the ball back with 12:43, down 7 points, Ehlinger had a chance to make Texas history. Before the game, Herman told radio reporters, “This is a kid who has grown up hating Oklahoma since he was 5 years old.” It is well-documented that the Westlake native wanted to play for Texas his entire life. Was he ready for his moment?

On the first play of the drive, Ehlinger stood tall in the pocket and absorbed a huge hit as he found Devin Duvernay on the sideline for a 42-yard gain. Then, the Oklahoma defense stalled the Texas drive, and Ehlinger couldn’t connect on a few crucial passes while under pressure, and the Longhorns turned it over on downs.

Ehlinger hit Reggie Hemphill-Mapps twice on the next drive, both times the wide receiver making highlight-reel catches. After a nifty jump pass to tight end Cade Brewer netted the Longhorns 21 yards and a close-up view of the end zone, Ehlinger slithered his way into it to give Texas its first lead of the day with 8 minutes and change to play in the game.

It wouldn’t last.

Mayfield answered with a 59-yard TD bomb to a wide-open Mark Andrews to regain the lead. After missing on the two-point conversion, Ehlinger had 6:53 to lead a game-winning drive.

It appeared he wouldn’t even get the chance, after Ehlinger took a huge hit on a two-yard run. Shane Buechele came in on relief for a few plays, before Ehlinger and the Longhorns turned it over on downs for the third time.

When asked if he was ever confused or lost consciousness, Ehlinger said that he took a hard hit, and that his head hit the ground, but that he wasn’t disoriented, and went through concussion protocol before re-entering the game.

“There was no deer-in-the-headlights look from Shane,” Herman said, when Buechele went in the game. “It was, ‘Let’s go.'” Buechele completed both his pass attempts.

Texas defense held OU on third down, and Ehlinger was given one more shot with under a minute to play and no timeouts. It was time to see if the true freshman could grit his way to an upset, a moment he’s been waiting for his whole life.

Maybe not. Ultimately, OU walked away with a second consecutive win in the series. After the game, head coach Tom Herman praised the toughness of his young team.

“That’s not the outcome we expected. To take the lead in the 4th quarter says a lot about this team, and where we’re headed,” Herman said. “There’s no moral victories, especially against these guys.”

Either way, Ehlinger showed poise way beyond his years, taking big hit after big hit, each time picking himself up off the grass with aplomb. His scrambles had my suite-mates in the press box ooh-ing and ahh-ing all afternoon, as Ehlinger escaped pressure and turned negative plays into positive ones. He was the team’s leading rusher, with 106 yards on 22 attempts, plus a rushing TD.

“I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time,” Ehlinger said. “The atmosphere was incredible. Losing the game was not incredible. I’m looking forward to the next three years.”

Despite the loss—and this one never feels good for Texas fans—head coach Tom Herman can sleep well at night knowing he has the real deal as his quarterback.

“He showed me all he needed to show me in Los Angeles,” Herman said, of the freshman’s tough performance against USC earlier in the season. “He’s a tough dude, he doesn’t get rattled. He’s competitive as all get-out. I’ve seen everything I need to see from Sam Ehlinger.”

Photo via Flickr.

 

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