AUSTIN — Bill Snyder coached teams rarely give any gifts, especially when he’s celebrating his birthday. Kansas State was not in a generous mood, so Texas had to earn every point and yard on the evening.
Texas had a game plan tailor-made to a true freshman making his third start behind a relatively inexperienced offensive line. Sam Ehlinger’s 30-for-50, school freshman record 380-yard evening with two touchdown passes, plus 20 carries for 113 yards on the ground were extraordinary, but several Longhorn mistakes forced the game into overtime. In the end, Junior Chris Warren clawed his way into the end zone in the second overtime to secure a 40-34 Longhorn victory.
“I’m just so proud of the way that we fought, the toughness that we showed, the physicality on both sides of the ball that we showed,” Ehlinger said. “It was really good to see.”
Ehlinger did a lot on his own, including all the scrambles, which helped to make sure Kansas State had zero sacks on the evening.
“I try to bring this offense energy and do my job,” Ehlinger said. “Take what the defense gives me. That’s what I try to do.”
After trading scores in the first overtime, Kansas State opened up on offense for the second frame. Two holding penalties pushed K-State back to face a 53-yard field goal to help its defense. A clock malfunction/referee miscommunication erased Matthew McCrane’s first missed attempt, but the second one that went off the upright counted in the books, leaving Texas only needing a field goal to win.
“I was praying that the football gods realized that he was going to miss the kick that first time and let him miss the second time,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I was very nervous. It looked like it was going in at first, but then it hit the crossbar. I was like ‘woof.’”
Ehlinger led the Longhorns down to the four yard line, and after two tries, Warren made his way into the end zone with help from several teammates to seal the victory.
“When we went into overtime, I told the offense, I said ‘we’ve been here before. This is just like USC,’” head coach Tom Herman said. “I think it was Patrick Vahe who looked at me and said ‘yeah, except we’re going to win it this time.’ I thought that was very apropos because we had been there before and we didn’t close it out. We were able to do so tonight.”
Though Ehlinger’s record-setting play (most passing yards by a true freshman in school history) got the Horns in to a position to win, they needed several things to go its way, and Warren helped make those things happened. Trailing by a field goal, Texas was driving near midfield when Ehlinger completed a pass to sophomore Lil’Jordan Humphrey on 3rd and 10. The 6-foot-5 receiver attempted to hurdle a Wildcat defender, losing the ball in the process. Luckily for the Longhorns, Warren was there to recover the football.
“I was just running my route, I stopped and I saw that (Humphrey) caught the ball,” Warren said. “I thought alright, cool. I saw him go in the air. He knew, since he’s a bigger guy, someone’s going to go low on him, so he tried to make a play.
“I saw him in the air. I thought ‘okay, he’s going to be down.’ I didn’t even notice the ball was on the ground at least for a second or two, but then the ball bounced towards me. I just ended up jumping on the ball.”
That drive ended with junior Josh Rowland making a 34-yard field goal to tie the game, one of his two makes on four attempts.
Kansas State received the ball with a minute and a half left. Facing a third down in their own territory, KSU quarterback Jesse Ertz, who left the game at one point, threw a deep pass out of a formation best suited for running the football. Junior DeShon Elliott intercepted the pass, giving Texas one last chance to win in regulation.
Ehlinger led a drive that could have cemented one of the best performances by a freshman in Longhorn history, but Rowland missed the kick, this time from 45. Luckily for Ehlinger, the delay lasted just two overtimes.
“Sam is a tough, tough kid,” head coach Tom Herman said. “I told the TV, I told the radio, he made a lot of freshman mistakes out there. He’s certainly got a lot of room for improvement, but I think those mistakes, he overcomes with tenacity and toughness, and moving on to the next play.”
In the stat column, Texas outperformed Kansas State in first downs, rushing yards, passing yards, total offense, time of possession and third down conversions. However, what mattered most was outperforming a disciplined defense at the very end.
“I think the last play of the game was the staple of what we tried to do in this game,” Ehlinger said. “We know Kansas State is a very physical team. We stuck him on the two yard line, got a big push, and won the physical battle.”