For the first time in nearly a decade, the Lonestar State’s flagship football program will play for a conference championship.
Needing a win over lowly Kansas to secure one of the two spots in next weekend’s Big 12 championship game, Texas did just that as they will leave Lawrence and head coach to Austin with a 24-17 win. The Longhorns held a scant 7-0 lead coming out of the halftime locker room, but a pair of third-quarter Sam Ehlinger touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) gave UT what seemed at the time to be an insurmountable edge over the offensively-challenged Jayhawks.
Ehlinger, who was somewhat questionable throughout the week after aggravating an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, accounted for a total of three touchdowns, including two through the air. The sophomore also tossed his first two interceptions since throwing a pair in the season-opening loss to Maryland, a streak of more than 300 pass attempts without a pick.
The second interception came early in the fourth quarter, giving KU both hope and the ball at UT’s 22-yard line trailing 21-7. That particular hope proved fleeting, however, as the Jayhawks returned the pick favor and handed the ball right back to the Longhorns. Thanks in part to its first penalty of the game, UT managed to turn that turnover into what was essentially a game-icing field goal with under 11 minutes to play.
The key word there was “essentially” as, trailing 24-7, KU made it interesting as Peyton Bender connected with Daylon Chariot on a 31-yard touchdown pass that sliced the lead to 10 with just over three minutes to go; a successful onside kick moments later gave the ball right back to the Jayhawks with 3:21 left. A field goal at the end of that drive brought the Jayhawks to within one score at 24-17 with 1:37 remaining.
That would be as close as the Jayhawks, out of timeouts, would get as the Longhorns recovered the second onside kick to, finally, end the game.
With the win, Texas moves on to the Big 12 championship game next Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. There, they will face the winner of tonight’s Oklahoma-West Virginia game.
The appearance will mark the Longhorns’ first in the conference title game since the 2009 season. Granted, the game was on hiatus from 2011-16 so that comes with the headlines asterisk, but still.
UT will be looking for its first conference crown since that 2009 season and 33rd in the program’s storied history. Three of the previous 32 conference championships have come as members of the Big 12 (1995, 2005, 2009), while 27 came during their time in the Southwest Conference. The other two came when they were a part of the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association way back in 1913 and 1914.
For Kansas, the regular-season finale marked the end of the David Beaty era in Lawrence. In four full seasons with the Jayhawks, Beaty posted a 6-42 overall record — exactly half of those wins came in 2018 — and a hard-to-comprehend 2-34 mark in Big 12 play.