Nobody said that it would be easy, or pretty.
That was clear when Texas stood on the two-yard line tied with Kansas State, 34-34, in double overtime on Saturday night. The Longhorns, facing third and goal, stood two yards away from a victory when freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger took the snap and handed the ball to junior running back Chris Warren III.
Warren was stood up and even pushed back two yards which appeared to bring Texas to a fourth and goal. But the whistle wasn’t blown. Warren continued to churn his legs as Ehlinger and several of his Longhorn teammates pushed and pulled Warren closer to the end zone.
Moments later, Warren reached out and crossed the goal line. The 90,462 fans at Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium erupted as the entire team rushed the field in celebration. The scoreboard read Texas 40, Kansas State 34.
Texas’ late-night victory comes just three weeks after its heartbreaking double-overtime loss in Los Angeles. And the Longhorns made sure they didn’t lose this one.
“When we went into overtime, I told the offense, ‘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.’”
Saturday night’s win wasn’t pretty by any means. Grind-it-out wins have become an expectation for the Longhorns as a result of their physical quarterback and tenacious defense.
That physical quarterback wasn’t sophomore and opening-day starter Shane Buchele, however. It was freshman Sam Ehlinger. Texas announced the freshman would get the start against Kansas State after Buechele sustained an ankle injury last week, limiting his time in practice.
Ehlinger didn't get off to a great start on Saturday. He threw an interception on the first play of the game. However, four quarters and two overtimes later, the freshman finished with 380 yards passing along with 107 on the ground, and a hand in muscling Warren III into the endzone for the game-winning touchdown.
“(He’s) a tough kid, not just physically, but mentally,” Herman said. “He’s certainly got a lot of room for improvement, but I think those mistakes he overcomes with tenacity and toughness, and kind of moving on to the next play.”
But the momentum-changing play in Saturday’s contest occurred with Ehlinger on the sideline. Kansas State kicker Matthew McCrane lined up for a 53-yard shot with the score tied, 34-34, in the second overtime. Despite the distance, the kick was very much within McCrane’s range, as he drilled a field goal from 54 yards out earlier in the game.
The air was sucked out of the stadium as the ball soared through the air. But moments later, the crowd erupted as the ball clanked off the right upright and into the endzone.
Soon after, the Longhorns were singing “The Eyes of Texas” in celebration of their double-overtime victory. Texas’ win over Kansas State improves its record to 3–2 overall, and 2–0 in conference play.
Moments after the school song concluded, fans quickly forgot about Kansas State and began to look forward to next week’s showdown, the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorn faithful began a chant that echoed throughout the stadium: “Beat OU.”
“That was a heck of a football team that we just played – as physical as it gets in the country,” Herman said. “Really proud of the way this was such a team win … we’re going to celebrate this for a couple hours, and wake up tomorrow and get ready to play our rival in Dallas.”