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Author: Tucker Stephenson

SUGAR IS SWEET

By Tucker Stephenson

NEW ORLEANS — After a full month of hype, everyone wearing the burnt orange and white couldn’t wait to get a piece of the Georgia Bulldogs.

Even Bevo himself.

Texas’ mascot nearly maimed Georgia’s favorite pooch, Uga, during an ill-advised pregame meeting, and the Longhorns finished the job over the next several hours by outmuscling the Bulldogs for a 28-21 win in the 2019 Sugar Bowl. Head coach Tom Herman’s team showed confidence and urgency from the very first snap and ultimately left The Big Easy with the program’s biggest postseason prize in a decade.

And with regard to the obvious question surrounding Texas football, quarterback Sam Ehlinger — the game’s Most Outstanding Player — answered it during the postgame ceremony.

“Longhorn nation,” Ehlinger said, “we’re baaaaaaack!”

It was a nearly flawless start for the Longhorns (10-4), who rattled off 17 consecutive points to take control of the contest. The Bulldogs (11-3) eventually pulled to within two scores with plenty of time remaining in the fourth quarter, but Texas’ defense rose to the occasion and got the stop it needed thanks to a key sack by linebacker Gary Johnson.

The Longhorns survived a penalty-plagued final minute to snag an onside kick that sealed a major upset — in Las Vegas’ eyes, at least.

“We pride ourselves in our physicality,” Herman said after the game. “At this point in our program, that’s how we’re going to win games. That’s always how we’re going to win games.”

Texas moved swiftly after receiving the opening kickoff, marching 75 yards in 10 plays and scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run by Ehlinger — the first of three scores on the ground from the Westlake alum.

The Longhorns then got a short field after Georgia punter Jake Carmada’s knee touched the ground as he reached for a low snap. Cameron Dicker capped the brief drive with a 37-yard field goal.

The Bulldogs survived another disaster courtesy of Carmada — this time a shanked punt that traveled all of 11 yards — but they weren’t so lucky following a fumble by running back D’Andre Swift that was covered up by defensive lineman Gerald Wilbon. The takeaway resulted in more Texas points when Ehlinger ducked under the Georgia rush on third-and-goal from the 9 and bullied his way across the goal line.

Georgia showed signs of life by answering with a 12-play touchdown drive, but Dicker tacked on a 30-yard field goal prior to intermission to give the Horns a 20-7 edge.

The Texas defense kept that lead intact for much of the second half, as P.J. Locke III opened the third quarter with an interception and the Longhorns then forced back-to-back Georgia punts.

Ehlinger then led a determined 14-play, 70-yard drive that eventually found the end zone after four consecutive runs from the 1 by the sophomore signal caller. It was the second fourth-down conversion of the possession, which proved to be a crucial one for Texas.

“Our No. 1 goal coming to New Orleans to participate in the Sugar Bowl was to win the game,” Herman said. “We weren’t just happy being here. We were going to win the game and do everything it took to win it.”

Following a successful 2-point conversion pass, the Longhorns held a commanding 28-7 advantage with 11:49 left to play. 

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm notched a pair of late TD tosses to try and spark a rally, but the last one was mostly cosmetic. Texas’ Collin Johnson easily handled the Bulldogs’ desperation onside attempt with 14 seconds left, and the Longhorns lined up in the victory formation.

“I’m just so proud of how hard our guys played,” Herman said. “They played hard early, they played hard late, they overcame some adversity and it was a complete team effort.”

Ehlinger became the first Longhorn quarterback to rush for three scores in a bowl game since Vince Young did so in the 2006 National Championship Game. Ehlinger finished with 241 total yards — 169 through the air, 64 on the ground and 8 on a pass from Lil’Jordan Humphrey. 

As a team, Texas ran for 178 yards on 49 carries. Graduate transfer Tre Watson led the way with 91 yards on 18 totes.

Ehlinger and the Longhorns’ youth movement, including freshmen B.J. Foster, Joseph Ossai, Keaontay Ingram and Sam Cosmi — were on display all night long, but the senior class also left a lasting impression in its final college game. Elijah Rodriguez, Patrick Vahe and Andrew Beck helped pave the way for the running game, while Locke, Gary Johnson, Chris Nelson, Anthony Wheeler, Kris Boyd and Davante Davis helped put the brakes on the SEC’s third-ranked offense.

“They are going to go down as the most influential senior class, certainly of our tenure here, because of the culture they have instilled and the culture that they have upheld as well,” Herman said. “That locker room has finally become a player-led team instead of a coach-fed team.”

And Then there were Three

 

Three Austin-area teams have been carving up opponents like a Christmas ham so far in the 2018 UIL football playoffs.

And each one is doing so in its own unique way.

Westlake, Lake Travis and Liberty Hill have all reached the state semifinals this week and all three look like legitimate title contenders. Here’s a look at how every squad has steamrolled its way into the final four.

Doing it with defense

The Chaparral’s (13-1) are the champions of District 25-6A and proud owners of an impressive 44-14 victory over Lake Travis in the regular season. Since the Class 6A Division II postseason began, Westlake’s scoring is down from 47.3 points per game to 32.8 points per outing,but it hasn’t mattered yet.

That’s because the Chaps are smothering opposing offenses, having just recorded back-to-back playoff shutouts for the first time in program history. Last week in the regional title game against San Antonio Brandeis, Westlake saddled the Broncos early and held them to a measly52 yards of offense and three first downs during a 26-0 victory.

The week before, head coach Todd Dodge’s team shut down Edinburg Vela 28-0.

Of course, there’s a reason the Chaparrals aren’t lighting up the scoreboard as much as they did through the first 11weeks of the season. In addition to an increase in the quality of its opponents, injuries have plagued Westlake recently.

Quarterback Taylor Anderson and running backs Tripp Graham and Jax Crockett have all been sidelined, while center Blake Webster was lost to a season-ending injury more than a month ago.

Still, behind a disciplined and tough defense, the Chaps have built a 12-game winning streak that includes a hard-nosed 28-14 win over a physical Schertz Clemens team in the bi-district round and a 49-7 romp over San Antonio Brennan in an area matchup.

The only thing standing in the way of a trip to the 6A-II championship game is a contest against Beaumont West Brook(12-2) this Saturday at 4 p.m. at Legacy Stadium in Katy.

Airing it out

The Cavaliers aren’t just glad to have star wide receiver Garrett Wilson back — they’re ecstatic.

Opposing defensive coordinators? Not so much.

Wilson gave Judson fits last week during a38-21 triumph in the Region IV-6A Division I title game that saw the wideout make eight grabs for 139 yards and three touchdowns. Two games prior to that,the recent Army All-American torched San Antonio Madison to the tune of 169yards and three total scores on another eight grabs as Lake Travis waltzed to a56-35 area playoff win in New Braunfels.

Wilson’s reemergence helped the Cavs banish the Rockets for a second consecutive season. It was key to the game plan, as Judson has one of the better defensive lines in the state of Texas, including stud DE/DT DeMarvin Leal — a Texas A&M commit.

Junior quarterback Hudson Card, a Texas pledge, was still able to pick apart the Rockets’ secondary and finished with311 yards and four scores, with one TD going to Kyle Eaves.

Lake Travis, which hasn’t flinched since suffering a 30-point loss to district foe Westlake, has now won seven straight games. That includes runaway postseason victories over Smithson Valley (45-14)and Weslaco (56-14) in the bi-district and regional semifinal rounds.

Card even tied the school record for most TD passes in a single game (7) against Weslaco, joining Garrett Gilbert and Matthew Baldwin in that category.

The Cavaliers have now booked a date with Galena Park North Shore (14-0) this Saturday at 2 p.m. at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Ground and pound

The Panthers (12-1) and their vaunted Slot-T rushing attack has to bring a tear to the eye of any football fan who longs for the days of “3 yards and a cloud of dust.”

Except in Liberty Hill’s case, it’s often more like “30 yards and a hail of artificial turf pellets.”

Running back Kyle Harrison is always a threat to take the ball the distance, as the 5-7, 150-pound senior has rushed for an absurd 2,607 yards and 37 touchdowns. As a team, the Panthers have kept the ball on the ground 681 times for a total of 6,601 yards.

In the age of spread offenses and air raid attacks, Liberty Hill has thrown the ball a grand total of 32 times this season. However, that doesn’t mean that head coach Jeff Walker’s team won’t chuck it in key situations.

In fact, during last week’s 35-17 victory over La Vernia in the Class 4A Division I regional final in San Marcos,quarterback Jacob Cearley caught the Bears hibernating on a 61-yard TD pass to Harrison that helped the Panthers rally from a 17-14 fourth-quarter deficit.The pass sparked a string of 21 unanswered points in the final stanza.

Just don’t expect to see Cearley lining up in the shotgun anytime soon.

The Panthers’ path to the Class 4A-Isemifinals also includes a 35-21 win over Sealy in the regional semifinals and triumphs against Bay City (62-14) and Gonzales (56-28) in the opening two rounds.

Harrison and company will look to keep churning out rushing yards and moving the chains this Friday against unbeaten Carthage (14-0) at the Berry Center in Cypress. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

Horns lose Big 12 Title to Sooners

Horns lose Big 12 Title to Sooners

By Tucker Stephenson

The good news from Saturday is that Tom Herman had his team competing at the peak of its ability when a conference championship was on the line.

The bad news is that when Lil’Jordan Humphrey got assaulted on a potential first-down reception, the refs weren’t on the scene to make the proper call.

Texas (9-4) gave Oklahoma (12-1) all it could handle in a rivalry matchup for the Big 12 title on Saturday, but the Sooners’ late surge was enough to guide Lincoln Riley’s team to a 39-27 victory at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

“It’s difficult,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “Losing is supposed to hurt. With a 1-0 mentality that we have, we don’t worry about the big picture. We went 0-1 today. Tomorrow it’s our job to wake up and try to go 1-0 in the bowl game.”

Humphrey appeared to be roughed up on a third-down play in the final quarter, but the referees chose not to whistle the foul, which led to a Longhorn punt. Oklahoma took possession at its own 20 and appeared destined for a score until Gary Johnson jarred the ball loose on a long pass play and Brandon Jones pounced on the loose pigskin.

Moments later, a bit of rivalry deja vu ensued as the Sooners’  Tre Brown played the role of Roy Williams while sacking Sam Ehlinger for a safety after flying in unblocked on a blitz from the edge.

Oklahoma added a final TD to seize a 39-27 lead, and Ehlinger was picked off by Tre Norwood to end the game.

It was a memorable effort by Ehlinger, who staked the Longhorns to a 14-6 lead after capping a pair of early drives with scoring runs of 16 and 3 yards in the first half.

However, Kyler Murray found some rhythm prior to intermission and directed the Sooners to a pair of scoring drives before opening the second half with another TD march. CeeDee Lamb, Grant Calcaterra and Trey Sermon were the culprits in helping Oklahoma build a 27-21 edge.

Ehlinger then led a seven-play, 75-yard scoring march that was capped by a 27-yard toss to Collin Johnson, but the PAT carromed off the upright to keep the score tied at 27-all.

The Sooners’ Austin Seibert responded with a 31-yard field goal, and after the no-call on Humphrey’s key third-down route, Oklahoma survived a fumble to sack Ehlinger and change the complexion of the game for good.

“I felt like we weren’t running the ball like we thought we would be able to,” Herman said afterward. “That was certainly an issue. When you’re playing one-handed a little bit throwing the football, there’s things that can happen. When their drives stalled, they were able to get field goals. When our drives stalled, we had to punt. It’s a matter of 10 or 15 yards.”

The Longhorns still may sew up a bid in the Sugar Bowl, or at the least, a berth in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. No matter what, a 10-win season would signal a major accomplishment for Herman in his 2nd year at the helm.

 

 

 

THE REMATCH: TX-OU

Perhaps Sam Ehlinger and Kyler Murray were born to be rivals.

After Murray completed an immaculate run at Allen High School, where he went 42-0 as a starter and guided the Eagles to three straight state championships, he headed off to College Station — not exactly a friendly haven for those who bleed burnt orange.

Right about the time that Murray and the Aggies were preparing for their 2015 Music City Bowl match-up with Louisville, Ehlinger — then a junior at Westlake High School — sprung a 23-17 upset win over Allen in the UIL Class 6A Division I semifinals. The victory ended the Eagles’ winning streak at 57 games and cost Allen a shot at surpassing Celina’s state-record mark of 68 consecutive wins.

Everyone knows the next series of events. Murray transferred to Oklahoma, and Ehlinger, a lifelong Longhorn fan, chose Texas. A collision course was set, and the two finally met face to face at the Cotton Bowl in October, with Ehlinger earning a 1-0 edge by way of his team’s thrilling 48-45 triumph.

The two signal callers reportedly traded a few choice words after the game, which adds even more intrigue to Saturday’s rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game at Jerry World in Arlington. This week, Murray was asked how much he respect’s Ehlinger’s game, and the Heisman trophy hopeful responded with a brief chuckle and a “no comment.”

The Longhorns’ win in the 2018 Red River Showdown represents the Sooners’ lone blemish of the season, and with Ohio State’s recent bludgeoning of rival Michigan, Oklahoma understands that its shot at a national title rides on Saturday’s outcome. Style points may even be necessary depending on what the Buckeyes do against Northwestern in the Big 10 title game.

For Texas, a shot at playing in the program’s first Sugar Bowl since 1995 is likely at stake.

One of the Longhorns’ keys to success in the first meeting with the Sooners was a near-flawless start on offense, as Texas scored on each of its first four possessions and added three more touchdowns during a dominant third quarter. The Longhorns managed to survive a frenzied finish led by Murray when Cameron Dicker nailed a now-legendary 40-yard field goal with 14 seconds left.

To post a second straight win over Oklahoma, Ehlinger, who was picked off twice by Kansas, must return to taking care of the pigskin and converting key third downs to keep Murray and his weapons sitting on the sideline. Texas’ defense will also probably need to manufacture a few turnovers like it did back in October.

The Sooners, on the other hand, will be out to prove that they actually have a functioning defense. Breckyn Hager remains skeptical.

The battle lines have already been drawn for the 114th meeting all-time between the two programs — and the first outside of Dallas in 95 years. If the Horns can improve upon their current series lead of 62-46-5, then it’s finally safe to say that Texas is officially back.

As for Ehlinger, sore shoulder and all, a second straight win over OU will bring him another step closer to earning a spot beside VY, Colt and Major in modern Longhorn quarterback lore.