Fourth-quarter safety, Ehlinger's late interception thwart the Longhorns chances for an upset
Posted December 1st, 2018
ARLINGTON — What happened Saturday at AT&T Stadium was nothing short of an emotional hurricane. Ups, downs, cross-currents galore. Wreckage strewn about everywhere.
When the cheering, booing and cussing from 83,114 fans finally stopped, Texas players were spent. Such was the heart-breaking toll of coming up short in a 39-27 loss to No. 5 Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship.
This time around, OU’s Kyler Murray was the one running around with an oversized flag. The Sooners (12-1) were the ones on the championship stage, gleefully throwing the “Horns Down” and safe from any 15-yard flags by that point.
Maybe Texas will one day rule the roost again, but for the fourth straight year, the Big 12’s colors are crimson and cream.
“I want to say we’re right where we want to be. But we’re not yet,” UT receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey said. “We’re supposed to be Big 12 champions, but that’s not what we are. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there.”
No. 14 Texas can take solace in a 9-4 season, the program’s highest win total since 2012. The Longhorns are likely headed to the Sugar Bowl, thanks to Alabama, which won the SEC championship. Texas could face No. 4 Georgia in New Orleans. An official announcement will come Sunday.
Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger didn’t care. He nodded to the field and said, “We’re still at AT&T Stadium.”
A loss like this scrambles one’s sensibilities about how to judge a season in which Texas took a huge step forward under coach Tom Herman.
“I will make it my mission to never let this team or this school feel this disappointment again,” Ehlinger said.
In the other locker room, the Sooners were downright giddy. This was before they learned Georgia was giving Alabama a furious challenge and possibly ruining OU’s College Football Playoff hopes.
“When the rest of the world didn’t believe in them, they believed in themselves,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “And that’s why we’re sitting here with this trophy right down here.”
For a league that features offensive shootouts galore, it was actually two defensive plays that made the difference. Two from OU, something even Sooners fans probably couldn’t believe.
The game was tied 27-27 going into the fourth quarter. Ehlinger’s 16- and 3-yard touchdown runs helped Texas overcome a slew of early penalties, including three from cornerback Kris Boyd. Collin Johnson was practically unstoppable as he made eight catches for a Big 12-championship game record 177 yards and one score.
The crowd, which was split about 60-40 in UT’s favor, exploded when Humphrey caught a 5-yard touchdown pass with 2:44 remaining in the third quarter. Texas was poised to take the lead, but Cameron Dicker’s extra point was partially blocked.
OU went up 30-27 on one of Austin Seibert’s three field goals (20, 27 and 31 yards). Texas then punted, and the Horns knew they had to get the ball back ASAP.
On second-and-8 from the OU 36, Murray hit CeeDee Lamb for a 54-yard gain. But Texas linebacker Gary Johnson chased Lamb down and clocked him, knocking the ball loose in the process. Brandon Jones jumped on the turnover, and Texas was in business at its own 8.
“We practice that every day,” Johnson said. “Always swarm to the ball no matter what. You never know what could happen. And that pretty much showed why.”
Then came the game-changer. On second-and-11 from the Texas 7, Ehlinger didn’t see OU cornerback Tre Brown come blazing straight in for a sack in the end zone. The safety gave the Sooners a 32-27 lead and the ball with 8:19 left.
“I think they’ve run this entire season, sitting down with the coaches and watching film, they’ve shown corner chop once,” UT tight end Andrew Beck said. “They just so happen to dial it up at a good time for them. And our slide (protection) couldn’t get there.”
The Sooners have run that blitz only once this whole season?
“You talking about this whole year?” OU defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. “Man, get me a GA to get that stat. Bro, c’mon now. Good, they’ve only seen it once.”
It was a perfect call at the perfect time.
“Especially when I saw him to play-action, I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe he just faked the ball,’” Brown said. “I got a green light and I took my shot and I delivered.”
On OU’s next possession, Murray hit Lee Morris for gains of 18 and 13 yards as the Sooners marched to the Longhorns’ 18-yard line. On third-and-goal, Murray found Grant Calcaterra matched up against B.J. Foster.
Calcaterra had a hand on the freshman, but officials were letting some hand checking go while calling others for fouls. He reeled in the 18-yard score and spiked the ball for an unsportsmanlike penalty. No Sooners were flagged 15 yards for throwing the “Horns Down” during the game.
“The play call was there,” Calcaterra said. “It was up to me to make the competitive play.”
Humphrey went the distance on the kickoff. Texas fans went bonkers thinking they were back in the game. But UT’s Josh Thompson was called for holding, wiping out the score.
“I was really praying it was on them, but it wasn’t,” said Humphrey, who had seven catches for 51 yards. “So we had to make up for it some way, some how.”
Ehlinger still got the Horns into scoring position. But OU’s Tre Norwood snatched an interception at the 1-yard line with 51 seconds left, ending the Texas threat. Ehlinger finished the day having completed 22 of 36 passes for 349 yards. He was sacked three times.
Penalties killed Texas. The Horns drew a season-high 13 flags for 128 yards. Penalties and an inability to pressure Murray (379 yards passing, three touchdowns, two sacks) made the difference.
“The games that we’ve lost we’ve hurt ourselves,” Ehlinger said. “While that’s very frustrating, I think it’s enlightening to know that we are going in the right direction.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.