AUSTIN, Texas — Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger recognized the name K'Lavon Chaisson.
Oh yes, the Lone Star slinger knew of LSU's star pass rusher, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound outside linebacker whom Tigers coaches and players believe will break Arden Key's single-season school sack record in 2019.
Chaisson is dangerously determined after returning from an ACL injury that ended his season in last year's season-opener. Chaisson's first sack of 2019 was taken away by a delay of game by Georgia Southern on Saturday night, and he took out his frustration on the next play by jarring the ball loose from an Eagles running back.
It's expected that Chaisson's first sack of this season will come against Ehlinger on Saturday night, when No. 6 LSU (1-0) plays at No. 9 Texas (1-0) in Austin, Texas, with the fanfare of ESPN's College GameDay fixing the spotlight on central Texas.
The biggest college football game of the weekend will be a rematch for Chaisson and Ehlinger, who first met on the gridiron nearly four years ago, 165 miles east down I-10.
It was Dec. 19, 2015, in the Texas Class 6A Division I high school state championship game, the highest division in the state.
Chaisson walked into NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, with the rest of the hometown team, the North Shore Mustangs, to face Austin Westlake and its Gatorade Player of the Year quarterback, Ehlinger, in front of a crowd of nearly 30,000 plus a FOX Sports television crew on hand.
Chaisson made the game-winning play and won Defensive MVP that night in North Shore's 21-14 win over Westlake in overtime — a title game that is still regarded by some Texas preps reporters as one of the most thrilling state championships in the state's high school football history.
And once Chaisson decided he'd be leaving his home state to play college ball in Baton Rouge, he knew he'd one day be returning to play Ehlinger again.
"I knew it was coming," Chaisson said, eyeblack still smearing from sweat after LSU's 55-3 win over Georgia Southern on Saturday. "I saw it on the schedule as a recruit. I'm glad that we get to go against him again. I don't really find him too much as a threat. Not taking a shot at him, but he uses his legs more than his arms. So, just like in high school, he has a decent arm, but it's more about his legs."
The smack talk reached Austin, where it was shrugged off by the Longhorns' quarterback — "completely irrelevant," Ehlinger called Chaisson's comments Tuesday — but Ehlinger acknowledged Chaisson's influence on that classic game four years ago and the respect he's earned for the one upcoming.
"No doubt," Ehlinger said. "K'Lavon is an extreme talent. He was and still is. He definitely caused issues for us when we played him in the state game, and I'm sure he'll make incredible plays on Saturday."
The following is an oral history of the Chaisson-Ehlinger meeting in the 2015 state championship game. EDITORS NOTE: An Advocate reporter was an analyst on the radio broadcast for KBREEZE Sports Radio along with Danny Mata, now a sports anchor in Colorado Springs.
• • •
When North Shore and Westlake met in the 2015 state championship, it's difficult to say which school was favored. Both had become powerhouses in their respective regions under Friday night lights: North Shore won state in 2013 and Westlake had made a few recent appearances.
The narrative was clear: Offense vs. Defense. Westlake was averaging 42.2 points per game under coach Todd Dodge, and Sam Ehlinger had thrown for 50 touchdowns and rushed for 20 more. North Shore was holding its opponents to 17.8 points per game and K'Lavon Chaisson was developing into one of the top outside linebacker prospects in the nation.
There was a small hitch: Chaisson hadn't practiced all week. North Shore coach Jon Kay said he recently watched practice film from the week leading up, and Chaisson was watching practice with his arm in a sling — a collarbone injury that he'd been cleared from, but didn't want to risk before the biggest game of the year.
That kept one of the state's top pass rushers from preparing for Ehlinger, who was looking to be the second of notable quarterbacks to win a state title at Westlake: Drew Brees won in 1996.
Kay: "For us, it was more about just trying to control the big play. Initially, if you watch the game from the very beginning, we were softer, keeping things in front of us. Then Sam with his RPOs started jumping in front of us, and we started going press coverage, forcing him to make some perfect throws — which of course he did."
Kubena: "(Ehlinger's) the most complete quarterback that Todd Dodge has had at the high school level."
• • •
Ehlinger recorded 301 yards of total offense (219 passing, 82 rushing) against North Shore, but he did not score. The game went the way of defenses, with four total sacks, four turnovers, two non-offensive touchdowns and a blocked field goal and punt.
The game was scoreless after the first quarter, when Chaisson recovered a fumble and recorded a sack. Chaisson finished the game with 1½ sacks, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble (more on that later).
Mata: "(Westlake running back Noah) Hodes went up the middle. He was hit. He lost the football when he landed on top of a North Shore player, and the ball was recovered by K'Lavon Chaisson."
Westlake and North Shore traded rushing touchdowns to tie the game 7-7 at halftime.
On Westlake's first drive of the second half, Ehlinger drove the Chaparrals 69 yards to the North Shore 12. It appeared momentum was theirs.
Then, a North Shore defender stripped Ehlinger of the football and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown to lead 14-7.
Mata: "Ehlinger. Read option. Keeps it himself. Ehlinger loses the football! It is picked up by North Shore at the 5 yard line! It is picked up past the 30. 40. Midfield stripe. 30. 20. One man to beat! Touchdown North Shore!"
Kay: "It was critical. Our offense was a little more limited with what we had going on. They were driving on us in the red zone, then that scoop-and-score? It was you know, I don’t think the difference in the game. It was an equalizer to the one they returned on us."
Yes, Westlake's Matthew Sams, now a defensive back at Rice, returned a blocked punt 41 yards to tie the game at 14-14 with 1:58 left in the third quarter.
Mata: "The punt is blocked! It is picked up by Westlake! Down the left sideline! 10, 5, Touchdown!"
• • •
Westlake had two possessions in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but Chaisson and the Mustangs forced consecutive punts. With less than five minutes remaining, North Shore drove to the Westlake 21. Future Texas Southern kicker Aaron Cuevas attempted what appeared to be a go-ahead field goal.
Mata: "A 38-yard field goal attempt for Aaron Cuevas to break a 14-14 tie. They had issues with the snap in this game. This time it's clean. Cuevas' kick is up. And his kick... no good! Hooked it wide to the left!"
Kay: "That was par for the course, given the way the game went."
Ehlinger had another chance to make history. Starting at his 21, he completed passes of 17, 14, and 27 yards to reach the North Shore 10 with eight seconds remaining.
Westlake kicker Ryan Rees attempted a 32-yard field goal to seal Westlake's second state championship.
Mata: "That makes it now a 32-yard field goal attempt straight away for Ryan Rees. For the lead. It's blocked! It's blocked by North Shore! Are you serious?"
The player who made the block on the official stat sheet? LSU safety Eric Monroe. But Kay shed the truth on the play.
Kay: "It was really just a bad kick. There’s been many multiple guys claiming that block — Eric being one of the more vocal of those guys. (Laughing) In reality, he kicked it in the back of his offensive lineman."
• • •
Overtime. North Shore scored a touchdown on the first possession to lead 21-14.
Then, with Westlake facing fourth-and-goal at the North Shore 3, the Chaparrals got tricky. Ehlinger motioned in a wide receiver and handed him the ball.
Ehlinger: "It was like a sweep pass."
The receiver had no time to throw. Chaisson was waiting in the backfield and stripped the ball loose to win the game.
Was the play a surprise?
Chaisson: "Yeah. I mean, especially to my side. It didn't make sense. But I can't coach everybody. So that's how that went."
And so, North Shore won the title, and Chaisson and the Mustangs took their place as one of the best defenses in state history.
Chaisson: "Hopefully it’s remembered that way. I’m glad I’m a part of that."
As for Saturday's game in Austin?
Ehlinger: "Now that we're in college, it's the same way as it is every week. Obviously, (Chaisson's) an incredible player. We're gonna slide the protection one way or another and hope that we win our matchup."