Sam Ehlinger couldn’t save the Longhorns one final time on his senior day.
It wasn’t because of a poor performance. The senior quarterback threw for 298 yards, rushed for another 65 and accounted for two touchdowns, but it still wasn’t enough in Texas’ 23–20 loss to No. 13 Iowa State.
“(I’m) frustrated and confused. I wish it didn’t have to go this way,” Ehlinger said. “We still haven’t played a great game where both sides of the ball were playing really well. It’s frustrating. I’m confused to have so much talent, but we can’t put it all together.”
Ehlinger’s career at Texas has been defined by his ability to shine under pressure and his late-game heroics, whether they were at USC’s Coliseum, the Cotton Bowl or at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Friday afternoon, he almost saved the day and Texas’ Big 12 Championship hopes once more.
Iowa State sophomore running back Breece Hall gave the Cyclones their first lead of the game when he ran into the end zone with 1:25 left. But two timeouts and over a minute seemed like more than enough time for Ehlinger to drive the offense into Cyclone territory and tie, or even win, the ballgame.
“I think 2020, this game has pretty much summed it up for us,” Ehlinger said.
Ehlinger wasted no time moving the offense down the field. He quickly negated a holding penalty on the first play of the drive with a quick strike to senior tight end Cade Brewer and a screen pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jordan Whittington to give Texas a badly needed first down.
He hit sophomore running back Roschon Johnson on back-to-back checkdowns on the next two plays. Texas called the first of its two timeouts with 27 seconds left. Ehlinger picked up another first down on the next play, this time scrambling out of bounds to the 36, well within junior kicker Cameron Dicker’s field goal range.
Head coach Tom Herman wanted to make Dicker’s game-tying attempt a little closer with 10 seconds left. He called a four verticals play, with a checkdown to Johnson.
“They were dropping everybody deep into coverage, and (we) were hoping to get the back on a checkdown, get down, call timeout and (take) some yardage (off) the field goal attempt,” Herman said.
But Ehlinger never felt the defensive end behind him. He was sacked at the 40-yard line with three seconds left.
“I may have been able to get the ball out of my hands (and avoid the sack), but I didn’t want to risk turning it over,” Ehlinger said. “Just eat it.”
Dicker’s game-tying field goal attempt pushed wide left by a matter of inches.
“We didn’t do enough there at the end to win the game,” Herman said. “… My heart is broken for this senior class and everything that they have worked for for four years.”
If Friday’s loss was in fact Ehlinger’s last game at Texas, he will finish his Longhorn career 15–6 as a starter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. He still holds the option to return next season after the NCAA elected not to count this season against athletes’ eligibility.
Ehlinger hasn’t commented or hinted at whether or not he will return in 2021. But for now, his last play at DKR is a sack at the 40-yard line with three seconds left.