Floods of Oklahoma fans emerged from their seats and headed for the exits as Texas took a commanding 21-point lead over the Sooners. But what those fans would soon miss was an electrifying fourth quarter that marked an instant classic in a 118-year-long rivalry.
After a defensive catastrophe in which the Sooners scored three touchdowns in less than five minutes, Sam Ehlinger and the Texas offense would respond in the final moments by setting up freshman kicker Cameron Dicker for a game-winning 40-yard field goal that gave the Longhorns a 48-45 win over Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
“The last play of the game, when we were in our victory formation with like three seconds left, I was literally in the back just shaking,” safety Brandon Jones said after the game. “Like, I was just so excited. When I saw the four zeros, I just felt like I wanted to cry.”
What looked to be a runaway affair for Texas early in the fourth quarter quickly became the most memorable matchup between the two in recent years as Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray almost single-handedly thrust the Sooners back into the competition.
First, it was a 19-yard touchdown catch by OU wide receiver Lee Morris, then a 67-yard scamper into the endzone by Murray and finally, a 7-yard touchdown run by running back Trey Sermon. Before the 92,300 fans in attendance could even blink, Oklahoma was right back in a position to secure what would’ve been a sixth-straight win this season.
The Texas defense, which has been regarded as the Longhorns’ greatest asset since Tom Herman took the reins as head coach, suddenly had no answer for Heisman-favorite Kyler Murray.
This time, it was up to the offensive unit to win the game. Ehlinger and the rest of the Texas offense jogged onto the field with a chance to lead Texas to its fifth victory in a row.
“Before we were coming off the field, our linemen were like ‘We’ve got y’all’s backs, man, We’re fixing to take it down the field, drive it down the field,’” senior defensive tackle Chris Nelson said. “So, we just look in those guys eyes like, ‘Yeah, they’re about to go do it.’”
Just as he has done in recent weeks, Ehlinger exuded veteran confidence in the pocket throughout the entire game. He tallied 314 yards and two touchdowns in the passing game and paired it with another 72 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in what is arguably Ehlinger’s best performance in burnt orange.
“This guy (Ehlinger) prepares like a pro — he’s great,” Herman said. “Nobody would ever question the way that he prepares. The guy has played in some big ball games this year, and he’s played really well in those games. I don’t think anybody was surprised to see him do what he did.”
Amid a Texas-record 48 points in the Red River Showdown, Ehlinger became just the third quarterback in the program’s history to run for three touchdowns in a Big 12 game.
A win in the first nationally relevant matchup between the Longhorns and Sooners since 2012 qualifies as an important step for Texas, especially for many veteran players who had not beaten Oklahoma until Saturday’s thriller.
“This is my first time beating OU,” wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “They beat me the first two years that I’ve been here. It’s a great win. We’re just going to enjoy it. And keep going from here. It definitely proves that we can compete with anybody in the country.”
Now, as the college football season nears the halfway mark, Texas sits second in the Big 12 with a 5–1 record — a long ways away from last year’s 6–6 regular season finish.
“It’s a feeling I can’t even explain,” senior defensive back P.J. Locke III said. “Like I said, we’ve been through so much and with this being my senior year, I’ve been through the ups and downs with this team. To finally get the win and go out with a bang my senior year, I cannot thank these guys enough.”