AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Alabama cut the Texas lead to 27-24 with 11:08 left in the fourth quarter, Longhorns linebacker Jaylan Ford admitted that he could feel the pressure of potentially letting another game slip away.
“My heart started racing a little bit,” he said after the game. “We were still up three, but it felt like we were losing with the way the crowd was cheering.”
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The Crimson Tide drew within a field goal of the Longhorns on a Jalen Milroe pass to tight end Amari Niblack for a 39-yard score. Milroe had to pick a poor snap up off the ground and readjust his eyes downfield to find Niblack, who ran by Texas defenders on his way to the end zone. It felt like the moment Alabama needed to get back in the game, but it also brought most of the 100,077 fans who spent the night screaming and doing the “Horns Down” hand signal back to life.
It was a moment all too familiar to Texas players and fans — the Longhorns play well for a portion of the game only to let it get away from them late. It felt like the team that won 99 times at home over the past 16 seasons was about to make it to the century mark at the expense of the Longhorns.
Ford knew it, but when he got to the sideline, he had a moment of clarity.
“I went up to one of my coaches and said, ‘This is the moment you live for,'” he said. “To go out there with your backs against the wall to prove everyone wrong, to prove that we belong. I think we came out here and did that.”
Once the offense answered in a big way with a Quinn Ewers 39-yard touchdown pass to Adonai Mitchell to stretch the lead back to multiple scores, the defense locked in. Alabama went 3-and-out on its final drive and lost 8 yards courtesy of Anthony Hill Jr.’s second quarterback sack of the game. Milroe began to climb the pocket to throw the ball downfield, and Hill came out of nowhere and blindsided the speedy quarterback with a teeth-rattling tackle.
It forced Alabama to punt, silenced the raucous crowd and eventually led to fans heading for the exits before the final horn blew during the game-clinching drive. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said it was quite a relief being able to close out a fourth quarter to secure a win rather than let another game get away.
“I know, going back to year one, how ugly some of those fourth quarters were,” he said. “Last year, we were kind of 50-50. We played decent fourth quarters sometimes and some we didn’t. You get what you emphasize in this profession, and I thought it shined through with our ability to play fourth-quarter football.”
When Jonathon Brooks iced the game with a tough 14-yard run up the middle for a first down, it all started to become real. Wins like the one Saturday are what players visualize and think about when they’re in the middle of training camp, putting in the grueling work that fans and people outside the program don’t see. It’s the fuel behind an extra rep in the weight room or more drills when everyone else has gone home. To Ford, a victory makes it all worth it.
“The taste of success is very sweet,” Ford said. “I think the win validates our work for all the people outside the program that doesn’t know what’s going on, but for us, this is something we embrace. We have to keep it moving.”