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LUBBOCK — With 3:13 left in the game, Texas was down 56-41 after a 75-yard scoring run from Texas Tech’s SaRodorick Thompson. That jaunt seemed like the dagger, yet another Red Raider score resulting from Longhorn lapses in basic football fundamentals.
A lot of UT fans likely turned the game off at that point, and with good reason. Texas was atrocious on special teams, flailing on defense, and the offense was not keeping pace with what Alan Bowman and the rest of the Red Raiders through 56:47 of game time.
But Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger was not ready to give in, not even close.
“Our quarterback actually looked at me and said, ‘they left us too much time,’” Longhorns head coach Tom Herman said. “He said ‘we’re going to tie this thing up and win it in overtime.’ And I believed him, too.”
Texas had Ehlinger find Brennan Eagles from 12 yards out to make it 56-48, recovered an onside kick, drove 42 yards in two minutes to make it a two-point game after a Joshua Moore touchdown reception, converted the two-point conversion, scored first in overtime via another Moore touchdown, and held the Red Raiders out of the end zone to leave Lubbock with a 63-56 victory.
Ehlinger was not perfect, he threw his first interception of the season late in the third quarter and TTU scored to take the lead on the very next play. When Texas needed him most, he delivered. Ehlinger was 10-of-14 passing in the fourth quarter and overtime, including the three touchdowns. He had six total touchdowns, including his 100th as a Longhorn.
“Just unbelievable belief in my teammates, and just having faith to continue to press on regardless of the circumstances,” Ehlinger said.
Ehlinger’s uplifting performance on the field was important, but so too was his steadying presence on the sideline. Herman remarked after the game that he would buy oceanfront property in Arizona, a landlocked state, if Ehlinger was selling it.
Ehlinger had an effect not only on the coach, but on his teammates too.
“He just never loses faith,” Moore said. “That’s a guy that always brings energy not even in times like this, but in practice, walkthroughs, no matter what it is. He’s a guy that I’ve gotten to know a lot, and I told him after the game I appreciate you so much for believing in me and giving me the opportunity that you’ve given me.”
Texas took over possession with 3:13 remaining with that mentality. A quick pass to Brenden Schooler followed by another one to Kai Money put Texas on the Tech 12. Ehlinger found Eagles on the very next play, making it an eight-point game.
Cameron Dicker lined up for an onside kick and the sophomore who has come up big at several points during his UT career came through once again. The ball dribbled along the ground before taking a huge bounce, eventually finding the hands of sophomore Malcolm Epps.
“We couldn’t control the way that we were playing in the previous plays, but we could control was how we’re going to continue to go out and try to continue to win,” Ehlinger said. “That’s what we did.”
Needing to go 42 yards to get a chance to tie it, Ehlinger drove the Texas offense to the Red Raider 18. Moore broke open, and Ehlinger floated a ball over several defenders’ heads to find the sophomore from Yoakum in the end zone.
With momentum, the Longhorns quickly scored in overtime. Ehlinger once again found Moore from 12 yards out, and the Longhorn defense held Texas Tech out of the end zone to seal the come-from-behind victory.
“I told (Ehlinger) after the game, ‘I appreciate you so much for believing in me and giving me the opportunity that you’ve given me,’” Moore said. “Yeah, we were down. But the feeling and momentum that we had, we knew as a team, as a whole, that there’s no way we would leave this field with a loss.”
Without Ehlinger, Texas’ flight back from Lubbock would have been much longer.
The Longhorns had several major special teams miscues. D’Shawn Jamison dropped a punt in the third quarter and TTU’s Xavier Martin recovered the football in the end zone. The Longhorns were caught by surprise by an onside kick in the second quarter and allowed Tech’s Jacob Morgenstern to block a punt off the foot of Ryan Bujcevski a few drives later.
Luckily for the Longhorns, Sam Ehlinger is on their team, and Bowman is on the Red Raiders.
Bowman squandered the opportunities created by the special teams gaffes. On the first play following the onside kick, he was intercepted by senior Chris Brown. On the first play following the blocked punt, he was intercepted by sophomore Chris Adimora. Both of those interceptions led to Longhorn touchdowns.
The Longhorn defense and special teams did not have their best days as the scoreboard would suggest. Chris Ash’s defense allowed 441 yards including 325 through the air. Short fields created by Longhorn turnovers likely ate into some of TTU’s potential yardage total. The Longhorns did not officially record a sack or a QB hurry.
But there were highlights like the interceptions. When Texas needed it most, the defense held the Red Raiders out of the end zone. There will be plenty to learn from this game, even Herman acknowledged as much.
“Obviously not our best performance, but to go on the road, make the mistakes that we made continually, especially defensively and on special teams, and to find a way to gut it out at the end, just extremely proud,” Herman said. “We know we’ve got a lot of work to do. We need to do it. We need to start with tackling on defense. We need to obviously be better on special teams.”
But they are learning via a win and leave Lubbock 2-0 overall for the first time in the Herman Era, and they are doing it thanks to Ehlinger.
“Number 11,” Herman said. “I don’t think anybody on the team, as long as we’ve got that guy and there’s a few ticks left, I think everybody on the sideline believes we have a shot to win the thing.”
Photo courtesy of Texas athletics