Texas scored a watershed program victory over Oklahoma Saturday in Austin, Texas. The Sooners led for 76 minutes, but a flurry of tries in the game’s final minutes put Texas on top, 39-38.
Oklahoma opened scoring in the third minute with five points from try machine Michael Al-Jiboori, and Texas responded by blocking a kick in the OU in-goal and jumping on it for a try. OU’s first score was converted and Texas’ wasn’t, leaving the Longhorns down 7-5.
Oklahoma scored back-to-back tries in the 16th and 20th minutes to extend the lead to 19-5, but the Longhorns rebutted with a pair of tries in the 23rd and 34th minutes to claw closer at 19-17. The Sooners got the last score of the half when Bobby Impson scampered for a nice run, making it 26-17 at intermission.
Texas scored first out of the break, pulling to within two, but the Sooners went on a run with tries in the 60th and 68th minutes to extend their lead to 38-24.
That’s when Texas flipped the switch, rattling off three-straight tries to win the game. The first two were scored by Longhorn man-of-the-match and No. 8 Danny Cotton, who was battling hay fever and influenza. The game-winning try was dotted down by prop Fernando Assing.
The Longhorns were pressuring inside the Oklahoma 22 and went through a few forward phases without making much ground before breaking the gainline with a pick-and-jam, followed by a quick pick by Assing, who bowled over a couple of Oklahoma defenders before scoring in the corner.
Cotton was named man-of-the-match, not for his late tries, but for his work on defense.
“He was a menacing force at the breakdown. If you give Oklahoma the opportunity to run two quick phases in a row, you’re going to be in trouble on the outside, so him getting over the ball and slowing them down was the most important part of the game plan,” said Texas head-coach-in-waiting Chris Hopps.
Also paramount to the game plan was kicking to the corner and beating Oklahoma in the lineout.
“Our game plan was to play for touch and play for territory because we were confident we could control the lineout and disrupt any first-phase possession they had that way, and [lock JJ Pepper] was the main guy in that,” said Hobbs. “He played well around the park, no mistakes or anything, but they were unable to throw to the first half of the lineout, and he was the single reason why.”
The win is monumental not only because it makes the Longhorns 1-0 in their first-ever DI-A campaign and it was over a rival in Oklahoma, but because the Sooners have dominated the rivalry in recent memory, and it marks how far the Texas program has come the last few years.
“We play them every year in the fall, never been able to [win]. It’s always been really frustrating, but it’s great to get the win. OU’s always a big rival and we’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” said senior reserve lock Phillip Lee.
“When I came in we weren’t winning too much and every year we got a little better and a little better, and hopefully we’re building on a great program here.”
Texas has taken big strides under current head coach Butch Neuenschwander, who is about to pass the baton to Hopps this spring. A native Oklahoman raised as a Sooner fan, beating Oklahoma in his last Red River Rivalry game means a lot to Neuenschwander and the legacy he’ll leave on the Longhorn program.
“When I took over the team, it was 1-10, and it’s not about me. You have to have a team that’s hungry, that wants to get better. They see teams like Texas A&M and OU just leave them behind. They used to be fairly competitive with them years ago and they just kind of ran off and left them. They started losing to DII teams before I came in and they were hungry to be competitive,” said Neuenschwander.
“It’s been a long process, and we needed that big win. We stepped up to [DI-A] because we wanted to see, are we going in the right direction? And today proved that we’re on our way. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, though.”