By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
STILLWATER — It took a little over 57 minutes, but Bedlam finally broke out at Boone Pickens Stadium. That was when a defensive struggle turned into an offensive shootout.
Oklahoma landed the last two blows and left with a 33-24 upset victory in one of the most memorable games in the series’ 108-game history.
“We knew what we had to get done and we kept our composure out there,” said OU wide receiver Jalen Saunders, who hauled in the game-winning touchdown catch with 19 seconds left.
Who Saunders caught the pass from, the set of circumstances leading up to it, and the chain reaction to bowl scenarios because of it were major parts of what etched Saturday into OU lore.
The 18th-ranked Sooners (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) entered the day with no chance for a Big 12 Conference title. The No. 6 Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2) was the league’s only team just needing to win to claim a share of the crown and the league’s berth to the Fiesta Bowl.
The Sooners were 10-point underdogs with their third-string quarterback — Blake Bell — on the field the entire fourth quarter.
Somehow, OU made it all work out in its favor.
Starting quarterback Trevor Knight suffered a left shoulder injury late in the first half. OU switched back and forth between Bell and Thompson throughout much of the third quarter before landing on Bell at the start of the fourth.
Turned out to be the right decision. Bell threw for 140 yards with 131 of it coming in the final 15 minutes.
“Whenever I got my opportunity, I wanted to do the best I could,” Bell said. “With Trevor going down and Kendal coming in, I knew once I got my shot, I needed to — that first third-and-long I came in, I obviously should have made that play, but once I got in the rhythm of the game, yeah, I felt like everything was clicking.”
Bell turned out to be the one thing the Cowboys couldn’t answer. They’d kept OU’s offense in check most of the day. OU had scored 20 points in the first 59 minutes and all of it came on special teams plays.
Saunders scored late in the first quarter on a 64-yard punt return. Michael Hunnicutt hit a pair of field goals and the Sooner kicker corralled an 8-yard touchdown pass from holder Grant Bothun on a fake field goal late in the third quarter to tie the game.
Special teams and defense kept OU in the game.
OSU running back Desmond Roland rushed for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns and quarterback Clint Chelf threw for 200 yards and a touchdown. He threw for 81 of those yards on a seven-play 89-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Roland that gave the Cowboys a four-point lead with 1:46 remaining.
It was Roland’s touchdown run that unleashed the wild finish. Those have become customary when these teams meet.
OU had moved Bell to its No. 3 quarterback last week. The coaching staff decided it was putting all its eggs in the zone-read option that fit Knight best and Thompson was better suited for.
All that went out the window when the Sooners needed a touchdown and got the ball back on its 34-yard line.
Bell hit Sterling Shepard twice to put OU in Cowboy territory. A pass interference call on OSU’s Zack Craig moved it to the 30.
OSU had a chance to win the game when Justin Gilbert got his hands on a ball intended for Saunders with less than a minute left, but the cornerback lost the ball when he crashed to the turf.
Four plays later, the Sooners were at the Cowboys’ 7 with a chance to take the lead. Saunders got open in the back of the end zone and Bell lobbed it to him.
“We practiced that play in the red zone about every week,” Saunders said. “It was like second nature to us. We knew what we had to get done and we had our composure out there and did a great job of going out there and scoring a touchdown.”
The Sooners added another on the game’s final play when linebacker Eric Striker scooped up a fumble and scored. He was met by snowballs from the stands, but the Sooners didn’t seem to care.
Despite wracking up more injuries, they just rallied to beat the Cowboys in Stillwater and closed the regular season with their biggest win of the season.
“It shows a lot of toughness on the players’ part that we continued to battle back,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.
The Sooners still couldn’t win the Big 12 title. That went to Baylor, which walloped Texas Saturday, to claim the outright crown.
But due to Saturday’s win and a couple upsets throughout the Top 25, the Sooners left Stillwater in position for a BCS bowl bid.
“It’s been an up-and-down season and we’ve had a lot of guys go down,” OU defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue said. “I love these guys, every single one of them. We have character, we stay together. If we could go to a BCS Bowl game, that would be great to be a part of. For a season like this and the way it turned out, that would be nice to go to a BCS Bowl.”
Based on the way the Sooners handled the turn of events Saturday, they’ve earned it.
Follow me @john_shinn
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