ARLINGTON, Texas -- Texas ended its Big 12 tenure the way it began in 1996: with a conference championship.
The No. 7 Longhorns ended a 13-year conference title drought -- the longest in the program's history -- with a 49-21 win over Oklahoma State behind the right arm of Quinn Ewers on Saturday. The sophomore quarterback completed his first 12 passes en route to setting the Big 12 championship game record for most yards (452, also third-most in a game all-time at Texas) and tying the mark for touchdown passes (4).
In the first half, Ewers threw for the most yards (346) by any player in a half in a conference championship game in the past 20 years, putting on a show for the College Football Playoff committee watching 20 miles away in Grapevine. Ewers exited the game in the fourth quarter, giving way to Maalik Murphy -- and later, Arch Manning -- after completing 35 of 46 passes.
"I thought Quinn was lights out today, man," Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said, later saying it was part of the game plan to be aggressive on offense. Texas had six plays for 20 or more yards, including two for a touchdown.
"We wanted to come out and start fast," he said. "We really wanted to come out and throw our best punches. This was not a game that we wanted to throw jabs and feel it out. We wanted to go for it."
The Longhorns' title-clincher was the culmination of a breakthrough season for Sarkisian, who won five and eight games in his first two seasons in Austin before going 12-1 this year, eclipsing 10 wins for the first time in his decade as a head coach and putting Texas in contention for a CFP berth.
"Hopefully when people kind of look at the totality of the body of work, it's not just about the record, it's about the quality of the team," Sarkisian said. "I think that's the intent of the College Football Playoff is putting the four best teams in that playoff. Do we think we're one of those? For sure we do. But this isn't a vote. We don't want to get to the election booth and vote, so it's in their hands."
From the beginning of the season, Sarkisian told the Longhorns to "embrace the hate" before heading to the SEC next season. His team responded, beating every team they are leaving behind but suffering the one loss at the hands of SEC-bound Oklahoma, which drove 75 yards in 1:17 to beat Texas 34-30 on Oct. 7.
In three of the next four weeks, the Longhorns survived tight games at Houston (31-24), home against Kansas State (33-30) and at TCU (29-26) before a 10-point win on the road over Iowa State. But last week, Texas demolished Texas Tech 57-7 and followed it up with a dominant victory over the Cowboys.
"We've been talking about being champions since this summer," Sarkisian said. "We haven't backed off of it, and I challenged them. I made it very known publicly that's what the season was about. ... We probably played our best football in the last two weeks, and we played two really good complete games."
The Longhorns led from wire to wire, rolling up 662 yards of offense, holding Oklahoma State to 281 yards and limiting Ollie Gordon II, the nation's leading rusher who entered the game with 1,580 yards and 20 touchdowns, to just 34 yards on 13 carries, an average of 2.6 yards per carry.
Two wide receivers -- Ja'Tavion Sanders (8 catches, 105 yards, 1 touchdown) and Adonai Mitchell (6-109-1) -- went over the 100-yard mark. Texas star Xavier Worthy added six catches for 86 yards, but he went out with an injury in the second half and came back on the field on crutches and in a walking boot.
Sarkisian said after the game that Worthy's X-rays were negative and that he feels good about the time Worthy has to recover before Texas plays another contest.
The Longhorns even threw a touchdown to 6-foot-4, 362-pound defensive tackle T'Vondre Sweat, who celebrated with a Heisman pose.
"We did it Thursday, and coach told me that it was gonna be our first play we call when we get in goal line," Sweat said. "And he wasn't lying, he did it. It was amazing."
Sweat had been openly lobbying his coaches this season for a chance at a touchdown, and Sarkisian said it was always part of the plan. But there was one small concern.
"He bobbled it yesterday in practice. I said, 'Man, do not mess with me,'" Sarkisian said. "Then I said don't get a penalty. Get your behind to the sideline and celebrate to the sideline. Very cool moment."
At the end of the game, Sarkisian put Jonathon Brooks, who suffered a season-ending injury in Texas' Nov. 11 win over TCU after running for 1,139 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, in at running back with a large brace on his knee. After Manning kneeled for the final play, he turned around and handed the ball to Brooks.
While the final seconds ticked away, Texas fans at AT&T Stadium chanted "SEC!" But for today, the Longhorns claimed their fourth Big 12 title, second to Oklahoma's 14, to end an era.
As Sarkisian and his players awaited the trophy presentation, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark was drowned out by boos and chants from the Texas fans as Sarkisian tried to quiet them. Amid the booing, Yormark told the crowd that he believed Texas had proved it was worthy of being in the CFP field.
Sarkisian said regardless of whether they get in or not, this season has been a success.
"I didn't want this win and I didn't want this championship to be about the College Football Playoff," Sarkisian said. "This is an accomplishment in and of itself, us winning a championship."
But he still said that his team will "play anybody in the country. ... If we get into this tournament, we'll play anybody and we'll find out if we're good enough or not."
But first he has to wait on the committee.
"Hopefully we put in their minds, man, what would it look like if Texas was in a four-team playoff?" Sarkisian said. "I think it would look pretty good. We'll see what they think."