Naashon Hughes

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON – As the clock struck zero at NRG stadium on Wednesday night, the Longhorns’ seniors experienced a pair of firsts: a bowl victory and a win in their season finale.

In Texas’ previous three seasons, the burnt orange ended the year on a sour note. A 2014 Texas Bowl loss was followed by back-to-back years without a postseason contest, paired with dispiriting defeats to end the season. But as Wednesday night bled into Thursday morning, the bitter memories faded, and the Longhorn seniors clutched onto the Texas Bowl trophy at midfield.

"I couldn’t be prouder of this senior class,” head coach Tom Herman said. “They were the glue that held this up-and-down season together. I think they knew what was ahead for this program, and they wanted to make sure that they left their mark on this next chapter of Texas football and they did.”

Six senior took the field for the Longhorns on Wednesday night, with four coming on defense (linebacker Naashon Hughes, defensive backs Jason Hall and Antwuan Davis and nose tackle Poona Ford) along with two receivers, Lorenzo Joe and Armanti Foreman. Each made a contribution in the 33-16 victory, capped by Foreman’s 18-yard dash to the end zone to seal the win late in the fourth quarter.

Foreman’s final play of his Longhorn career put an exclamation mark on a largely disappointing senior season. The Texas City product entered 2017 a year removed from leading the Longhorns with 34 catches, but found himself tethered to the bench for much of Herman’s first season. Foreman tallied just seven catches over a six-week stretch, failing to find the endzone in any game.

But both Foreman’s final contest in Austin – a five-reception, one-touchdown performance against Texas Tech – and his final effort for the burnt orange on Wednesday salvaged his final season in Austin. And the fourth-quarter touchdown was the icing on the cake.

“We wanted to make sure if we were to call a reverse that it would have been (Foreman) because he’s a senior and he has played well for us here down the stretch,” Herman said. “He deserved it by how he’s prepared and how he’s practiced. My hats off to him. He’s had a really, really good last month of the year. We hope he has continued success. Hopefully playing this game for quite some time.”

On the other side of the ball, the Longhorn defense was its usual stout self, halting a Missouri attack that led the SEC in both yards and points per game in 2017. But while the defense’s performance in Houston mirrored the standard set by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, it was a far cry from the woes that plagued the Longhorn defense under former head coach Charlie Strong.

In the final two years of Strong’s tenure, Texas ranked No. 91 and No. 87 in the nation in total defense, surrendering over 30 points per game in 2015 and 2016. Seemingly every facet of the Longhorn defense struggled to keep up with the potent offenses in the Big 12, allowing a slew of big plays while failing to generate stops in key moments. Under Strong, Texas’ defense gave up over 40 points 10 times.

But the tide turned under Orlando in 2017.

Save for an opening-day loss to Maryland – in which the Longhorns allowed 51 points to the Terrapins – Texas held opponents to an average of 18.8 points per game, a mark that ranked No. 15 in the NCAA. And following a 16-point, four-turnover effort in the Texas Bowl, the Longhorn seniors believe they’ve laid the foundation for a fearsome defense in years to come.

“The sky is the limit for this defense,” Hughes said. “There’s a lot of guys returning, a lot of guys coming in, a great recruiting class coming in. This can be another top 10 defense, easily.”

The senior class departing from Texas will take with them one of the roughest stretches in program history. A 23–27 record, three losing seasons and three years without a bowl victory.

But that didn’t matter at the final buzzer on Wednesday night. The Longhorn seniors left NRG Stadium with a bowl victory, a win in the season finale and the first winning season in their time on the 40 Acres.

Texas Longhorns football commits perform in first round of playoffs

Plenty of Longhorn commits were in action over the weekend as first round of the Texas High School Playoffs kicked off. Here are the results, with each team’s future Longhorn listed in parentheses.

· Barbers Hill 31 – Livingston (Chevoski Collins, ’13 ATH) 0

· Southlake Carroll 65 – Arlington Martin (Kyle Hicks, ’13 RB) 7

· DeSoto 62 – Harker Heights (Naashon Hughes, ’13 LB, Darius James, ’13 OL) 15

· Cibolo Steele (Erik Huhn, ’13 S) 49 – San Antonio Marshall 17

· Dallas Jesuit (Jake Oliver, ’13 WR) 45 – McKinney Boyd 10

· Lake Highlands (Kent Perkins, ’13 OL) 42 – Plano West 35

· Celina (Jake Raulerson, ’13 ATH) 58 – Krum 27

· Alief Elsik 38 – Cypress Falls (Jacorey Warrick, ’13 WR) 10

· Langham Creek 38 – Eisenhower (Donald Catalon, ’14 RB) 21

· Denton Guyer (Jerrod Heard, ’14 QB) 42 – Saginaw 14

· Abilene Cooper (Lorenzo Joe, ’14 WR) 40 – El Paso Americas 14

· San Antonio Brennan (Derick Roberson, ’14 DE) 42 – Boerne Champion 24

The week’s most impressive performance went to 2014 quarterback Jerrod Heard of Denton Guyer, who threw for 246 yards and ran for 104 more, accounting for three total touchdowns according to the Denton Record-Chronicle. Denton Guyer will take on Aledo in the second round next Saturday.

Harker Heights 2013 center Darius James played his first game since breaking his foot in the first game of the season, but it wasn’t enough to stop DeSoto. James and 2013 linebacker Naashon Hughes were both roughed up in 62-15 loss.

James and Hughes weren’t the only commits to have their high school careers cut short over the weekend though. 2013 running back Kyle Hicks had to watch from the sideline as his Arlington Martin team lost 65-7 to perennial power Southlake Carroll. Hicks injured his knee in the last regular game of the season, and was not healthy enough to play this week.

The second round of the playoffs will open this Friday.

Belton tight end Durham Smythe as a member of USA Football’s 19-U team. Smythe is part of Texas’ 2013 recruiting class (Daily Texan file photo).

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

If Harker Heights outside linebacker Naashon Hughes and Belton tight end Durham Smythe didn’t know each other before their game last Friday, they’re certainly acquainted by now.

The Texas commits found themselves matched up against each other for the entire night during Harker Heights’ (1-3, 1-0) 7-0 homecoming victory over Belton (3-1, 0-1,) who entered the game averaging 32.3 points and 392.3 yards per game.

“Coach [Mike Mullins] said it was going to be Texas versus Texas the whole game tonight, and that’s what it was,” Hughes said.

Smythe spent most of his night trying to keep his future teammate out of the Belton backfield or looking for open space in the flat. Friday was the first game this season that the 6-foot-6 prospect failed to record a catch.

“We were moving the ball pretty well,” Smythe said. “We just needed to do a better job of finishing drives.”

Hughes made 2.5 tackles as the former safety also took several snaps as a Wildcat quarterback and tight end on the game’s only scoring drive.

Down 7-0, Belton faced a fourth-and-goal on the Harker Heights 18-yard-line. Smythe, lined up in the slot on the left side of the field, fought off Hughes’ jam at the line and routed himself toward the back corner of the end zone.

Belton quarterback Peter Shelburne lofted a pass to Smythe, who tried to make a leaping grab to tie the game, but Hughes had other plans.

“I just went up and elevated to the highest point, [and] knocked the ball down,” explained Hughes. The play resulted in a turnover on downs for Belton, who never got the ball again.

Immediately after the ball bounced to the turf, Smythe was seen pleading with the officials for a holding or pass interference call.

“He held me,” Smythe said. “There’s no question. He was doing it all night.”

Hughes was called for holding on Smythe in the 3rd quarter when he grabbed the inside of Smythe’s shoulder pads and slung him to the ground.

“I might have [held him a little bit], I’m not too sure,” Hughes admitted.

Harker Heights’ 6-foot-5, 319-pound Darius James, also committed to UT, is rated as the nation’s best center prospect by rivals.com. He was sidelined with a broken left foot but was impressed by his future teammates.

“They played really good,” said James. “[Smythe], that’s my brother out there, he looked good tonight.”

Smythe, a three-star player ranked as the 14th-best tight end in the nation by rivals.com, chose Texas over Stanford and Notre Dame.

“The offenses are similar. I don’t know if [Texas] uses as much tight end motion as [Belton] does, but I’ll still get to do a lot of the same things,” Smythe said.

Smythe plans to report to Austin in the summer, Hughes is less certain when his college career will start. He’s accepted Texas’ offer to gray shirt, meaning that he will enroll at UT in the spring so that his scholarship will count toward the 2014 class. He still wants to enroll at UT in the fall.

“I’m cool with it,” said Hughes. “But I’m still busting my butt out here so I don’t have [to gray shirt]. I want that full scholarship.”

Hughes’ scholarship offers from Baylor, LSU and South Carolina would have allowed him to begin college in the fall of 2013, but his heart was always with Texas.

“That’s my school,” said Hughes, whose older brother, Camrhon, is an offensive lineman that is redshirting at Texas this year. “I’ve played with my brother my whole life. I just can’t wait to get up there.”

Printed on Monday, October 1, 2012 as: Commits play head-to-head