DALLAS — Sam Ehlinger flashed the “Hook ‘em” hand sign in his baby photos. The Austin-raised quarterback has bled orange his entire life.
Starting against 12th-ranked Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl had to go beyond his wildest dreams.
“This is a kid who has grown up hating Oklahoma since he was 5 years old,” Texas coach Tom Herman said on the pre-game radio show.
The storybook ending will have to wait, though. Ehlinger orchestrated a scintillating comeback, running hard and even pushing Chris Warren III into the end zone at one point. But the Sooners held on for a 29-24 victory in a wild second-half shootout before 93,552 fans, a Cotton Bowl sellout.
“That’s why they call it the Red River rivalry,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said.
Trailing by 20 points earlier, the Longhorns (3-3, 2-1 Big 12) were 96 yards from finishing off one of the greatest comeback stories in Texas-OU history. Ehlinger got the ball to the Texas 42 with just four seconds left. But there wasn’t enough time or space for UT to execute a circus sandlot play, and the Sooners (5-1, 2-1) escaped, somewhat relieved.
“The atmosphere was incredible. Losing the game is not incredible,” Ehlinger said. “I’m looking forward to the next three years.”
Said receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, “He really had the game of his life. We just didn’t come out with the win.”
OU’s Baker Mayfield, a Lake Travis product getting his final shot at Texas, threw for 302 yards. He slipped away from Malik Jefferson and Charles Omenihu on would-be sacks. And Mayfield found Mark Andrews for what became the game-clinching 59-yard score.
Mayfield will finish his collegiate career with a 2-2 mark against the hometown team that never offered him a scholarship. OU’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, not Mayfield, played the Sooners’ flag at midfield, right smack in the middle of the Cotton Bowl logo.
Meanwhile, the Ehlinger era is only just beginning. He cemented himself as UT’s starter of the future. Ehlinger completed 19 of 39 passes for 278 yards while running for a team-high 106 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Don’t expect much more back and forth with him and sophomore Shane Buechele. “He showed me all he needed to show me in Los Angeles,” Herman said.
Ehlinger was UT’s only real running threat, really. Take away his contributions, and the Horns had just 33 rushing yards. Ehlinger had to go through the concussion protocol on the sideline in the fourth quarter but returned.
“No. 11? Sam? If it was up to me, I’d give him the ironman award,” guard Patrick Vahe said. “He played his butt off. No offensive lineman could ever ask for anything more from that guy.”
It was one of those days that required “championship hydration levels,” as Herman requires of his players. Texas ex Jordan Spieth handled the coin-flipping duties in what registered as the hottest Texas-OU kickoff in 26 years.
The Sooners had no problems with the 91-degree heat, though. Mayfield came out guns blazing. He connected with Jeff Badet for a 54-yard touchdown pass on OU’s first possession. A crucial 15-yard completion to Andrews led to a field goal. Rodney Anderson scampered up the middle for a 15-yard run, and OU had a dominating 17-0 lead.
The Longhorns, who had just 19 total yards in the first quarter, finally found traction in the second quarter. But a drive to the OU 43 stalled out when Ehlinger couldn’t connect with Collin Johnson on fourth-and-8. Two possessions later, the Sooners had a 20-0 lead that felt much, much bigger.
Just when Texas needed a spark, here came Kyle Porter. He broke four tackles on a 41-yard kickoff return. Then the Sooners committed two personal foul penalties, and the Horns were in business. Ehlinger found Porter on a screen pass for a 16-yard score, and fans in the north end zone came roaring to life.
As if that wasn’t enough, UT’s John Bonney read Mayfield’s eyes and made a timely interception on fourth-and-3 at the Texas 31. Ehlinger went to work, connecting with Lil’Jordan Humphrey twice on a drive that resulted with Josh Rowland’s 34-yard field goal. Those shouting in the north end zone suddenly had new life.
As the cannon blast reverberated in the stadium, the Horns ran to the locker room trailing only by 10. The Horns had only 26 rushing yards and 113 through the air at that point.
Ehlinger got things rolling in the second half by using the option and screens. And some good, old-fashioned elbow grease. Ehlinger capped a 13-play, 75-yard drive in the third quarter by literally shoving Warren into the end zone. Texas still trailed 23-17 at that point, but the momentum was clearly shifting.
“Chris is a big boy,” Ehlinger said with a sly grin. “He got in himself.”
OU went three-and-out twice in the fourth quarter, and Texas took over at its own 29. On third-and-10, Ehlinger found Hemphill-Mapps for a 22-yard gain. Then Cade Brewer took a swing pass 21 yards to the OU 8. Ehlinger scampered around the right end and punched it in, giving Texas a 24-23 lead.
All of that momentum was gone in a flash, though. Andrews got loose down the OU sideline and was wide open for what became the game-clinching score. “Great protection,” Mayfield said. “Mark ran a great route, and it makes my job easy.”
The Longhorns got the Sooners’ 34-yard line, but Herman passed on a potential 45-yard field goal. “Nah, didn’t feel good about it being into the wind,” Herman said. But Ehlinger wound up throwing it away on fourth-and-13, turning the ball over on downs.
“There’s no moral victories, especially when it’s against these guys,” Herman said. “But extremely proud of the effort, the enthusiasm, the belief and the fortitude of our guys.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.
The post Oklahoma 29, Texas 24: Magical rally falls short, but the Sam Ehlinger era is underway appeared first on Hook ‘Em.
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