Sam Ehlinger made his third start at quarterback for Texas on Saturday night. He earned the right to make a whole lot more.
The true freshman from Austin led Texas from two 10-point deficits and a fourth quarter hole to overcome Kansas State, 40-34 in double overtime. He carried Texas on his back for almost the entire game, plus two extra frames, hitting 30-of-50 throws for 380 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while leading the ‘Horns with 107 yards on 20 carries.
But before Ehlinger could have his triumph, he had to have his struggle. His first throw of the game was intercepted, and an incomplete pass on fourth-and-goal set up a 10-0 Kansas State lead in the second quarter.
Kansas State took advantage of Ehlinger’s fourth down misfire with an 82-yard play-action strike from Jesse Ertz to Dalton Schoen (a game-high five grabs for 128 yards and two touchdowns), completing a 14-point swing from 7-3 Texas to 10-0 Kansas State.
Texas also faced a 10-point deficit at 17-7 but roared back to close the second half with two straight touchdown drives, the last of which closed on a 1-yard Porter run with 16 seconds left before the half to give the Longhorns a 21-17 lead at the break.
The Longhorns opened the half with a stop and seemed in position to notch a third straight touchdown drive until Chris Warren, who caught a 33-yard touchdown in the first half, dropped a shovel pass on 3rd-and-3, forcing Texas to settle for a 34-yard Joshua Rowland field goal.
Kansas State marched the field on its next possession, keyed by an injury to Ertz. Ertz left the game with a dinged elbow and was replaced by spark plug backup Alex Delton, who rushed for the final 19 yards of the drive to tie it at 24-24 with 3:37 to play in the third quarter, then carried the share of the load on a 74-yard march to set up Matthew McCrane‘s second field goal of the game at the 12:19 mark of the fourth quarter
Texas put together yet another lengthy drive, killing half the available time, but Texas stalled in the red zone and Rowland’s game-tying 27-yard chip shot sailed wide right. Kansas State put its offense on the field, up 27-24 with 5:43 to play, but, rather than putting the game away, the Wildcats punted the ball away after a three-and-out.
Ehlinger passed or rushed on every one of Texas’s 11 plays for 52 yards, moving from the Texas 31 to the K-State 17 and setting up Rowland’s redemption chance from 34 yards out, which he made to tie the game at 27-27 with 1:37 to play.
Ertz (12-of-18 for 224 yards) replaced Delton for Kansas State’s final drive of regulation, but the Wildcats’ push to win the game in regulation ended in a deep interception to Texas safety DeShon Elliott, his fifth pick in his last three games.
Ehlinger, again, accounted for all 39 Texas yards to move Rowland in position for a 45-yard game winner with six seconds left and he, again, missed it.
Texas accepted the ball to open overtime and scored on its first snap, a 25-yard strike from Ehlinger to Jerrod Heard. Kansas State needed only four plays to answer. Alex Barnes rushed for 20 yards to give the Wildcats a first-and-goal, and Delton pushed the game to double overtime with his second rushing score. Despite not playing at all until the fourth quarter, Delton led the Wildcats with 79 yards on 12 carries while hitting 2-of-5 passes for 30 yards.
Kansas State (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) briefly secured a first-and-goal at the top of the second overtime, but two holding calls and an incomplete passed forced a 53-yard field goal try for McCrane, who missed it off the left upright.
With its third chance to win the game, Texas (3-2, 2-0 Big 12) secured the win when Warren carried a mass of humanity into the end zone on third-and-goal from the two.
Though Ehlinger looked every bit like the Next Big Thing in Austin, Texas has had a lot of Next Big Things since Colt McCoy. Garrett Gilbert, David Ash, Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard and, yes, Shane Buechele each had their moments, but that’s all they turned out to be — moments. Ehlinger will have to prove his moment can turn into a movement, first in practice and then starting again with next week’s opponent: Oklahoma.