How two hometown heroes pushed Texas past OU

DALLAS -- Texas landed its biggest victory this decade behind a pair of hometown heroes on Saturday.

Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger, whose lifelong dream was to play for Texas.

And true freshman placekicker Cameron Dicker, who not all that long ago couldn't have cared less about the Longhorns, the Red River Showdown or even college football.

Yet despite their differing paths to this pivotal moment in Texas football history, Ehlinger capped off a methodically mesmerizing performance to push the Longhorns into field goal range.

Then Dicker, with the aid of a true freshman long-snapper and a true freshman holder, calmly booted the ball through the uprights from 40 yards out with 9 seconds remaining, lifting 19th-ranked Texas to a thrilling 48-45 upset of the No. 7 Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl.

Immediately after the game, Longhorns coach Tom Herman was asked if it all meant that Texas was finally back after languishing in the abyss of the past eight seasons.

That is sure to be deliberated -- and ultimately decided -- in the weeks to come for the new and once-unlikely favorites to reach the Big 12 title game.

But to get there in the first place, Texas first had to start winning big games in big moments again.

And in the biggest moment of the biggest game, Ehlinger and Dicker both came through.

"This means a lot to us," Ehlinger said. "I still can't put to words how incredible this rivalry is and what it means to be able to be part of it."

Dicker is just now figuring that part out.

While Ehlinger grew up in Austin mimicking former Texas quarterbacks Major Applewhite and Chris Simms in his backyard as a young boy, Dicker was born in Hong Kong and lived in Shanghai until the sixth grade.

"I just played soccer all my life," said Dicker, whose father worked in supply chain management and took the family overseas. "Football really only came once I moved here."

That's because his father's job took the family to Texas, where football is virtually an involuntarily elective. That is especially true at Lake Travis High School, which calls former Sooner Heisman Trophy winner -- and noted Texas antagonist -- Baker Mayfield its greatest son. Dicker was a seventh-grader when Mayfield was guiding Lake Travis to a state championship, and yet he didn't really even know who Mayfield was until much later.

"Honestly, I just didn't watch football," said Dicker, who started playing the game in junior high simply because that's what his classmates did.

Perhaps for that reason -- with no sense for the rivalry or magnitude of what he was about to attempt -- Dicker didn't feel much pressure when he stepped onto the field for the tensest field goal try in recent Red River history. And without even realizing it, Dicker joined Red River lore with a single kick into the OU side of the bowl.

"Honestly, it came off my foot really well," he said. "I turned away because knew it was going through.

"I saw the ball and the path, and I was like, 'Cool, it's in.'"

To Ehlinger, knocking off the Sooners in such fashion was far more personal.

A quarterback star at Austin's Westlake High School (Lake Travis' big rival), Ehlinger must have dreamed many times of quarterbacking such a game-winning drive in the Cotton Bowl.

Ehlinger committed to Texas as a junior, cutting off the opportunity for other programs to recruit him. Yet before his football career had taken off, Ehlinger's father died in 2013 during a triathlon, robbing Ehlinger of the chance of ever playing a big-time game in front of him.

Ross Ehlinger would've been proud of his son on Saturday.

Putting together a Red River quarterbacking performance for the annals, Ehlinger completed 24 of 35 passes for 314 yards, rushed for another 72 yards and totaled five touchdowns to essentially sap the will of the OU defense.

"He just really grew as a player," Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson said of Ehlinger. "We all believe in him."

Most notably because of what happened last.

After quarterback Kyler Murray and the Sooners had improbably rallied from a three-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game, Ehlinger coolly moved the Longhorns down the field. He passed for 25 yards and rushed for 13 to position Texas for a field goal.

"I don't think anybody was surprised to see him do what he did," Herman said of Ehlinger. "The first three quarters were very impressive. But the last drive was the most impressive to me. Because we had really given up a lot of the energy.

"For him to go shut the door, with his teammates ... that says a lot about his grit."

Ehlinger added that the finish also said a lot about Dicker.

"I had confidence in him," Ehlinger said. "But being in that situation as a true freshman is something a lot of people don't ever experience.

"For him to put that through and nail it ... it was really, really awesome."