Strong secures signature win with Red River Showdown victory, 24-17

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

DALLAS – Charlie Strong took the Red River Showdown Golden Hat Trophy from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s hands. He lifted it up to the Longhorn faithful and placed it on his head. The Longhorns’ second-year head coach secured a 24-17 over No. 10 Oklahoma — his first signature win at Texas.

“Putting on the hat, it was special just because we knew we won the game,” Strong said. “It was just really special just to go shake the governor’s hand. Even before the game I told [the governor] ‘listen we’re going to play today. You’re going to be very proud of us at the end of this game.’”

Strong and the Longhorns entered the annual rivalry game with Oklahoma with a 1-4 record coming off a 50-7 loss to No. 2 TCU, and the team appeared fractured after fights on social media.

But Texas played inspiringly in front of 91,546 fans split between burnt orange and crimson at the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns built a quick 14-0 lead with a 24-yard touchdown on a shovel pass to senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson. Texas grabbed a fumble from Oklahoma junior running back Alex Ross on a kickoff return. The Longhorns cashed in the Sooner mistake with a three-yard run from junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.

The game had shades of the 2013 matchup when Texas jumped on a heavily favored Oklahoma. The Longhorns entered halftime with a 14-3 lead.

The Sooners, however, rallied in the third quarter. Oklahoma junior quarterback Baker Mayfield found sophomore fullback Dimitri Flowers for a two-yard touchdown to cut Texas’ lead to 17-10.

But the momentum swung in the Longhorns’ favor when sophomore running back D’Onta Foreman ran 81-yards to the Oklahoma 10-yard line. Swoopes would cap the drive off with a two-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Caleb Bluiett on a play-action pass to push their lead to 24-10.

Oklahoma got within seven with a one-yard touchdown run by junior running back Samaje Perine. But Texas’ defense would prevail. The Longhorns amassed a season high six sacks — none more important than a third-down sack by sophomore defensive end Nasshon Hughes late in the fourth quarter.

“I was holding on [to Mayfield] for dear life,” Hughes said. “He is an elusive quarterback. I think that most teams end up bending in situations like that. [They] let him go, or something happens, and he escapes, but I wasn’t going to let go any time soon.”

The sack proved to be the end of the Sooners’ rally as Texas held on for the win.

Texas’ upset victory Saturday was the first win over a top-10 opponent since 2010. For the Longhorns it’s their second win of the season and their second win over Oklahoma in three years. Senior running back Johnathan Gray, a member of the last Texas team to beat the Sooners, said this year’s win reminded him of the victory in 2013.

“[It’s] senior year for me,” Gray said. “I know a lot of seniors on this team feel the same way: To go out on top on Oklahoma on your senior year, come out with a win, it’s a wonderful feeling.”

Entering the week, media pundits questioned if Strong was the right guy for the Texas job. But the golden hat represents a potential change of luck for the Longhorns’ head coach.

“It was so fun to watch how it just came together,” Strong said. “We needed this … [The players] said they didn’t want to see me get fired so they were going to step up and play for me.”