“Here we go again.”
When the Texas Longhorns relinquished a 17-point lead to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and suffered through another horrific special teams mishap — once again on an extra point — the disappointments seemed all too real.
All too likely to once again lead to another heartbreaking loss.
And then the double-overtime victory happened courtesy of touchdowns in both of the extra periods and a big defensive stop, prompting a real moment from head coach Charlie Strong.
“Just loved the way that we played and we came out, we had energy from the very beginning, and then we got up by 17 and then they were able to come back and recapture the lead,” Strong said.
“I said, ‘A year ago we probably would have lost that game.’”
Indeed, all the trademarks were there — failing to score first, some offensive stagnation that led to three and outs in the third quarter, an inability to get key stops against a good opponent, and that special teams disaster with the blocked extra point that tied the game at 47.
But this isn’t the 2015 version of the Texas Longhorns.
“We wouldn’t have known how to finish. We wouldn’t have known how to just play through,” Strong said, referencing close losses from last season like Cal, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech.
Just as the offseason rhetoric suggested, there was a change that happened with this team. More experience. More talent. More chemistry.
“They have so much confidence in one another,” Strong said.
In the key moments, it showed. Following the blocked extra point, Notre Dame had 3:30 minutes to win the game once another Texas drive stalled.
Instead, a short run by Tarean Folston, a sack by cornerback PJ Locke on Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer, and a give-up play on third down by Notre Dame ended the possession.
In overtime, Texas scored the first touchdown, then took advantage of the defense once again holding for a field goal to provide an opportunity to win the game.
The outcome was incredible, but it wasn’t easy to achieve, and not only because Notre Dame is a well-coached, talented team — one of the most delicate tasks that Strong faced leading up to the game was managing his quarterback situation.
“Those two quarterbacks, I had a conversation with them and I told both of them, ‘Buechele’s gonna start.’ I said, ‘Swoopes, you’re going to have an opportunity to go and win this football game for us,’” Strong said.
And so it happened.
In a situation that could have gone sideways for the ‘Horns and sparked another round of quarterback controversy in a seemingly never-ending story, Swoopes and Buechele both played at a high level to help the team to victory.
Balancing that isn’t easy in the game of football, but Strong, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, and both of the quarterbacks managed to do so.
There were some late-night feels as a result:
Words can't describe how proud I am of this team! #Believe— Charlie Strong (@Strong_TexasFB) September 5, 2016
“When you get a senior, a lot of them can go the other way and kinda become a problem, but Swoopes told [Buechele] that, “I’m behind you and anything that happens, I’m going to be there for you, any time you need to have a conversation, just come because I’m going to be on the sideline and I’m going to be there to help you.’”
The respect the Texas players have for each other doesn’t ultimately matter that much if the team doesn’t win, so the outcome was critically important to the program’s future.
“We needed tonight to get this program back in the spotlight, and this is a big win to get this program headed back,” Strong said. “I know one game does not make a season, we have many more to go, but this is a great start for us and from where we’ve been.”