Texas was down by 3 with 53 seconds left on the clock. They had managed to come back from a 42-21 deficit and now were out of timeouts and had to stuff Kansas State running back James Johnson just one more time.
But Kansas State had other ideas. True freshman quarterback Josh Freeman, who had the game of his life, faked the handoff and rolled out left, hitting wide receiver Jordy Nelson for a game clinching first down.
With so little time on the clock, why did Kansas State throw it? It was because Wildcat head coach Ron Prince used some knowledge he'd picked up from an old mentor.
"I learned something when coaching for (Virginia head coach) Al Groh," said Prince. "He said, ‘Think players first, then plays.'…There is nobody I trust more than Jordy Nelson."
The loss essentially eliminates Texas from contention for the national championship game. With Lousiville losing on Thursday, the Longhorns were in position for a run. This seems like the worst time for a loss, but Texas head coach Mack Brown says when it happens doesn't matter.
"At Texas there's never a good time to lose," said Brown. "Ohio State wasn't good timing either."
The defense may have surrendered 45 points, but the game is most defined by the absence of freshman touchdown-machine Colt McCoy.
The game began with the Longhorns moving unabated down the field and putting the ball in the endzone on a QB sneak from McCoy. But as McCoy crossed the goal line, he led with his head and had his neck jammed in. On the sideline, the record-setting quarterback was obviously in intense pain and would not be returning, which meant it was Jevan Snead time for Texas.
"The kids did a great job trying to rally around him (Snead) because he hasn't played a lot," said Brown. "A true freshman, in this environment, on the road, that didn't think he was going to play. I'm really proud of him."
Snead was 13 of 30 for 190 yards and one TD and struggled to find his rhythm all game. Kansas State applied constant pressure on the young QB and brought him down for five sacks. Late in the contest, Snead did a solid job of rallying the team and bringing the Horns back, but it was too little, too late.
"We had momentum at the end," said Longhorn safety Michael Griffin. "Time just ran out."
Snead didn't throw any interceptions, but the Texas running backs gave up two key fumbles that swung momentum in the Wildcats' favor, momentum that their offense took full advantage of.
"We had too many big plays and too many turnovers," said Brown. "That lost the game. Nothing else. Period."
The ever-prolific Nelson may have come up big in the end (he also grabbed the on-side kick to keep the ball in Kansas State's possession), but Texas contained him for most of the game, limiting the All-Conference caliber player to 15 yards. The wideout who did the most damage was his partner in crime Yamon Figurs. Figurs knifed through the Longhorn secondary and had 6 catches for 123 yards and 2 TDs on the night as Freeman found him time and time again. The 6'6" Freeman stood tall on Saturday night (both literally and figuratively), completing 19 of 31 passes for 269 yards, three TDs, one pick and one rushing TD.
"I feel like the game is slowing down for me," said Freeman. "I'm nowhere near perfect, you can obviously see that. I feel like I'm improving every week, and that's my goal."
The game began as planned for the Horns. Using a series of short passes and off-tackle runs, Texas drove down the field with ease against what appeared to be an overmatched Kansas State defense. But then McCoy suffered his neck injury and things began to spiral out of control.
Kansas State scored in a mere five plays on their first drive and immediately let Texas know that this game would not be as easy as anticipated. The drive ended with a 36-yard TD pass to Figurs, which would become a theme throughout the game.
Snead entered the game for the first time and the Longhorns began with three straight Jamaal Charles runs. Snead then took the ball himself on a zone-read for 14 yards and things were looking promising for the freshman. But three plays later the punt team was on the field and the drive stalled.
"All of a sudden you're standing out there in the cold weather and you're told you're going to play," said Brown. It's a bit of a shock, but I'm proud of him."
Brown added that he won't attribute the loss to inexperience or injury.
"You have no excuses when you get beat."
A Kansas State three-and-out put the ball back in Snead's hands. Jordan Shipley (Texas' Jordy, as it were) took the ball on a reverse for 15 yards. The Horns were moving again, but an over thrown ball, a short run and a sack (this first of many) later, the ball was kicked back to KSU.
The Wildcats were held to another three-and-out and lined up for another punt. But then, a strange call from the Kansas State sideline put the ‘mo' squarely back in the hands of the Longhorns.
Start of the second quarter, tie game, 4th and long, deep in its own territory, facing statistically the top special teams unit in the country and the home team curiously decides to fake the kick. Punter Tim Reyer tries to throw the ball and is hit by a blitzing Michael Griffin, fumbles it and Texas gets the ball on the four. Three plays later, Texas is in the endzone and once again in control.
"Every time we didn't have things go our way…all of a sudden something happens and it's going our way again," said Griffin. "It was just an up and down game."
It was up for Texas at this point, but the down came quickly.
The Kansas State offense immediately jumped back into the flow, quickly moving the ball down the field through the air. Then, on the Texas 32, Johnson lined up wide, caught a screen pass and was off to the races. Texas used heavy blitz on the play and with no safety help there wasn't anyone to stop the speedy runner.
The Texas offense could not find the same rhythm, goiong three and out and missing several key opportunities, including an under thrown ball to an open Limas Sweed.
On the punt, Figurs returned the rock 52 yards to the Texas 8-yard-line. DE Brian Orakpo saved the TD with a tackle form behind, but it didn't matter as running back Leon Patton coasted into the endzone on the next play.
The Longhorns moved the ball down the field to try and break the 14-all tie and was effective at times, including a fourth down conversion, but the conversion was followed by an 11-yard sack that pushed Texas out of field goal range. The sack was executed by DE Ian Campbell, who tied the Kansas State single season record for sacks on the play with 11.5. Campbell was a thorn for Texas the whole game and always showed up at the wrong time for Texas, finishing with five tackles, one sack, one pass break-up and recovering both of the Longhorns' key fumbles.
"It was a tremendous effort on the defensive side of the ball," said Campbell. "We've obviously shown we can play with any team in the country."
Texas had only 68 pass yards in the first half and trailed 21-14. Not an insurmountable lead, but it didn't bode well for the Burnt Orange.
Things started well in the second half. Texas held Kansas State to a punt and Griffin, who had stuffed Reyer on the fake punt attempt, fought his way through and blocked the kick for his, amazingly, eighth career blocked punt. That obviously puts him first all time at Texas but it also puts him second in the history of NCAA football for blocked kicks (record is 10). Selvin Young put the ball in the endzone on the next play to tie the game at 21.
Texas was riding high at this point, they came out of halftime and immediately responded with a TD and McCoy could be see warming up on the sideline. The next Wildcat punt took a huge Texas bounce and the Longhorns had the ball on the K-State 39.
When the offense came back out, it was Snead who again took the reign. McCoy's injury was too severe for his return and he would not see the field for the rest of the game. As Brown put it: "When Colt was out, he was out."
Then, as if to signal the beginning of the end for Texas, another key injury struck. On the second play of the drive, a defender, locked up with a Longhorn lineman, rolled into RG Justin Blalock's leg, twisting the Outland Trophy finalist's knee and taking him out of the game. With the big man's injury, center Lyle Sendlein moved to guard and junior Dallas Griffin came in at center. Blalock did not return.
The mistakes started to pile up for Texas on both sides of the ball. Charles fumbled while being tackled and Campbell recovered for Kansas State to give the Wildcats first and 10 on the Texas 20.
After a Patten three-yard run, the Wildcats would be in the endzone in three crazy plays. It started with Freeman hitting Figurs on a crossing routehe Wildcats, the wideout turned up the field for a 29-yard gain. Ron Prince then reached into his very deep bag of tricks, gaining 28 yards on a double pass. Freeman threw across the field (but still backwards) to Nelson who threw the ball to TE Rashaad Norwood. On the next play, Freeman handed off to Patton, who then pulled up to throw.
No. They wouldn't run two consecutive trick plays. Would they?
You better believe it. Patton hit wide receiver Cedric Wilson on an 18-yard post route for the TD, giving Kansas State a 28-21 lead.
It was unfortunate for Texas, but Griffin saw it, in a way, as a compliment to his team.
"In my opinion, it shows our defense a lot of respect," said Griffin, "that you can't run the ball and have to do trick plays in order to score a touchdown and get yardage against our defense."
Texas held Kansas State to 23 yards rushing and the run D was, once again, the most effective unit of the Longhorn's game.
The miscues continued when Texas got the ball back. Deep in Texas' own territory, Young took a handoff, hit the corner and then got his by FS Andrew Erker. The ball popped loose and was picked up by, guess who, Campbell.
Kansas State immediately went for the homerun. With DT Roy Miller in his face, Freeman hit Figurs on a 30 yard TD pass to extend the lead to 35-21. In 40 seconds, KSU had scored two touchdowns.
Texas got the ball back and two drops plus a five-yard curl later, the punt team was back on the field. This time, it was the Wildcats turn for a block. Running back John McCardle blocked the kick and it was recovered by wide receiver Daniel Gonzalez on the Texas 23.
Three plays, boom, touchdown Kansas State. The score was 42-21 and supposedly out of reach. But just as the game started going in one direction, the momentum shifted again.
Snead looked like a season veteran on the next drive. Two runs, two passes, 75 yards, touchdown and the lead was narrowed to 42-28. It was still a big hole, but the slow climb had begun.
The defense, fired up by the quick score, stuffed a sneak attempt on a third and one and Texas was back in business.
In a three-point game, there are many moments that can be pointed to as game shifting moments. Times when, even if they may not be significant at the moment, make the difference. Texas may have had one of those at the start of the next drive. On the first play, Texas pulled out all the stops. A hand-off to Charles turned in a lateral (as he's being tackled mind you) to WR Quan Cosby who hurteled a fallen offensive lineman and then heaved the ball 35 yards down field to a wide open Limas Sweed…who dropped it. Another drop. Another mistake. Another missed opportunity.
Texas punted, but on Kansas State's next possession Griffin did not miss his opportunity. The safety picked off Freeman to give Texas the ball on the Kansas State 33.
On the first play, Snead immediately looked to Sweed on the fly. This pass, unlike many of his others during the game, was most definitely not overthrown as Sweed walked into the endzone unchallenged by the Wildcat secondary, which had done a good job of containing the Longhorn's premiere pass-catcher up to that point.
Another K-State punt (complete with a 25-yard return by Aaron Ross), gave the Longhorns a chance to score again, but on 3rd and 15 Snead was sacked for the fourth time, this time by DE Rob Jackson. Kansas State drove down the field, eating up as much time as possible, but were stuffed on a third down attempt at midfield. Price sent out his kicker, Jeff Snodgrass, for a 51 yard attempt. It was a monumental kick for the Wildcats. If he missed and Texas got the ball back, it would stay a one score game with only three minutes left.
He did not.
The score was now 45-35 and Texas needed to score twice.
Snead took over the Longhorns' offense and worked his way down the field. He converted a fouth and ten and kept his team moving all the way to the goal-line. On the one-yard-line, running back Chris Ogbonnaya plunged in to narrow the gap to 45-42.
There was only 1:43 left on the clock and Texas would have to get an on-side kick. They were unable to as Nelson followed the bouncing ball and snatched it up. One key first down later, the clock hit 00:00.
The Longhorns had come close to losing so many times this season and managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. It appears their luck, like the time, just ran out.
Texas is off next weekend and then hosts the Texas A&M Aggies at home on Friday, November 24th for the final regular season game this year. A win over the Ags will clinch the Big 12 South title, and a trip to the Big 12 Championship Game in Kansas City on Dec. 2 vs. Nebraska, for the Horns.