It was a collapse — a catastrophic, epic collapse.
Yet, in a way, it was typical of a program that’s spent years wandering in no man’s land.
Friday night was primarily supposed to be about the seniors, who played their final game under the lights of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. But above all else, it was supposed to be about continued progress.
The footprint on this game in the end was one of disaster, though. The Longhorns suffered a 27-23 defeat to Texas Tech after squandering a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“There's no words for it,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “To come up short, it’s super frustrating. Guys understand what was at risk at the beginning of the game and throughout the whole game.”
Texas turned the ball over four times in the second half and never could put the Red Raiders away, despite many opportunities to do so.
The Longhorns led 23-13 early in the fourth quarter after junior kicker Joshua Rowland booted a 40-yard field goal.
And then it all went south.
Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek marched the Red Raiders down the field in six plays for a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession. Shimonek fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Vasher, who then flashed the Horns sign down which drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Texas Tech closed the deficit to 23-20 and was firmly back in the game.
But with just over two minutes to play, Texas had a chance to put the game away for good.
Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger had led the Longhorns on a promising drive that was moving well into Texas Tech territory.
Ehlinger has been an unpredictable player all season long. He’ll make the head-turning impressive play one moment and then the head-scratching play at the next.
With the Longhorns ready to shut the door on Texas Tech, Ehlinger made Texas fans scratch their heads. On third-and-2 at Texas Tech’s 37-yard line, Texas elected to throw the ball, only for Ehlinger to make a catastrophic error. His pass was intercepted by Texas Tech defensive back Justus Parker, who returned it 55 yards all the way to Texas’ 14-yard line.
“You want to learn from your mistakes and never let them happen again, especially crucial ones like that,” Ehlinger said. “For it to happen again, and let down the team again, it's awful.”
Moments later, Shimonek lofted a touchdown pass to Cameron Batson to give the Red Raiders a 27-23 lead with 1:47 to play.
On the ensuing drive, Ehlinger once again marched Texas down the field and into Red Raider territory. Ehlinger had his chance to redeem himself and once again learn from his mistakes.
But with under a minute to play, he made another costly mistake. Ehlinger was intercepted a second time, this time by Texas Tech defensive back Douglass Coleman III, effectively ending the Longhorns’ hopes.
Texas players walked off the field with dejected looks on their faces. Senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman was one of the last players to leave the field. He headed up the tunnel with tears in his eyes, knowing this was his last game at home.
Head coach Tom Herman sat at the podium with a stunned look on his face.
“Losing that way hurts,” Herman said.
The talk from Herman and the Longhorns during the week had been of progress. The Longhorns entered their bout with Texas Tech as 7.5-point favorites riding a wave of momentum from a road victory last week over then-No. 24 West Virginia. Texas had already clinched bowl eligibility. It had a chance to clinch a winning season against Texas Tech, too.
The Longhorns now have plenty of time to reflect on how it all collapsed on Friday night.
“We certainly felt like we had a lot of momentum — and we still will once the sting of this wears off,” Herman said. “We kept fighting. We’ll keep fighting throughout the bowl preparation.”