The week had already been a busy one for Texas freshman Lawrence Sampleton. On Sunday he was still treating a sprained ankle that had limited his play to specialty teams for the first four games of the season. On Monday he learned he "would be a starter for the first time—against third-ranked, unbeaten Arkansas. And on Tuesday he was worrying about his mother, who was scheduled to enter a hospital for an operation. But on Saturday Sampleton shucked his cares and caught four passes for 108 yards and a touchdown, as once-beaten Texas upset Arkansas 28-21 before 78,000 fans in Texas Memorial Stadium. It was enough to remind the Southwest Conference that, whatever was occurring in the Cotton Bowl and elsewhere, one should not take tradition lightly.
The 6'6", 215-pound Sampleton first burst into prominence in the second quarter with the score tied 7-7. At Seguin High School, just 50 miles south of Austin, Sampleton once ran the 220 in 21.6 seconds. Now Longhorn Quarterback Randy McEachern was looking for that speed. Arkansas Cornerback Vaughn Lusby had left the game with a fractured cheekbone and McEachern wanted to test his replacement, O. C. Jackson. With a first and 10 on the Texas 32, McEachern threw to Sampleton over the middle. Running in his size 13½ Puma basketball sneakers, Sampleton caught up with the ball at the Arkansas 42. Three plays later McEachern again unloaded in Sampleton's direction. Sampleton and Jackson went up for the ball at the five. With his 11½-inch height advantage, Sampleton won the struggle and eased into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Arkansas took the kickoff and, with 54 seconds left, Quarterback Ron Calcagni threw on first down from the Hogs' 20. Johnnie Johnson intercepted, and four plays later McEachern hit Lam Jones with a five-yarder in the corner of the end zone. Texas led 20-7 at the half, and Sampleton's score looked pivotal.
But who, everyone wondered, is this guy? "Super kid," said Bill Ellington, the Texas assistant athletic director. "We've been looking at him since his sophomore year in high school." For that matter, Texas has been looking for an all-conference tight end to call its own since 1968.
In the third quarter Arkansas put thoughts of Sampleton far out of mind. Running and passing effectively, Calcagni engineered scoring drives of 69 and 62 yards and the Hogs took a 21-20 lead. If an interception of a pass intended for Sampleton following Arkansas' last TD hadn't been negated by a roughing-the-passer call, the Hogs might well have been home free. Instead, on the last play of the third quarter, McEachern again found Sampleton, hitting him for 14 yards and setting up a 47-yard field-goal attempt by another Seguin native, Russell Erxleben. It was wide. No matter. With 8:02 left, McEachern threw to Sampleton for the last time, 32 yards to the Arkansas 10. Another corner-of-the-end-zone pass to Lam Jones and the Long-horns were ahead for good.
Texas now holds a 46-14 advantage in the series and seems to be able to win at the most painful moments for Arkansas. A 15-14 victory settled the national championship in favor of the Longhorns in 1969. Last year Texas handed Arkansas its only defeat. And now, a freshman in his first varsity start has just about wiped out the Hogs' national championship hopes.