DALLAS — There was nearly five hours of glorious and ugly football played inside the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
While the historic stadium wasn’t filled with fans due to the pandemic, the Oklahoma-Texas rivalry remained pressure-packed through four overtimes.
The Sooners won the marathon matchup over the Longhorns 53-45 following Tre Brown’s game-sealing interception in the end zone. The approximately 12,000 crimson-and-cream clad fans in the south end zone erupted in cheers while the 12,000 on the opposite side wearing burnt orange slowly paced out of the venue.
The four-overtime game was an exhausting affair for the players, the fans and a national television audience. Who knew two .500 football teams, with three turnovers each and special teams miscues, could provide so much entertainment?
But, after all, this is 2020. Nothing is normal this year.
Oklahoma was coming off back-to-back regular-season losses for the first time since 1999. Some believe the program looks more in rebuilding mode than reloading mode. Those thoughts have been noticed.
“A lot of people have doubted us,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “Whatever. We didn’t let any of the excuses hold us down. We just found a way.”
No. 22 Texas turned out to be the perfect remedy for OU.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger will be glad to not meet Brown in an OU-Texas game anymore.
In 2018, Brown’s sack on Ehlinger resulted in a momentum-shifting safety during the Big 12 championship game. On Saturday, Brown picked the quarterback off on the quarterback’s 53rd throw of the day.
“I just kept telling myself, there's a play that needed to be made. I wanted to be the one to do it,” said Brown, a Union High School graduate. “Nobody else was gonna do it before me and this is my last one, so that's what kept going through my head.”
The interception ended the four-hour, 43-minute game and preceded Creed Humphrey’s plant of the OU flag at the Cotton Bowl’s 50-yard line. It is the ninth time that the Sooners have beaten the Longhorns over the past 12 meetings.
“What an unbelievable college football game that was. I told the team in (the locker room), this game, the history of this game is good as any in college football,” Riley said. “The teams, the players, the epic battles for so many years, it's been some of the greats and this game will go down as one of the best.”
The game-winning play on offense was made by someone familiar with this rivalry.
Drake Stoops, the son of former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, caught a 25-yard pass in the fourth overtime to help his team gain a 53-48 lead that stood up.
“Drake, what can you say? I’ll bet his daddy’s pretty happy right now,” Riley said.
The Sooners (2-2, 1-2 in Big 12) took an early 10-0 lead, but after two turnovers by Rattler, Riley turned to backup quarterback Tanner Mordecai midway through the second quarter.
“Spencer did some good things early and then had a couple plays I didn’t like,” said Riley, who put Rattler back in the game after halftime. “Tanner had been practicing well and so I felt like one, kind of give us a new face in there and two... I felt like Tanner would go play well, and I also felt like it would help Spencer take a step back for a minute and kind of see the whole thing and settle down. And I think that happened.”
This game didn’t seem destined for overtime, especially after Woodi Washington intercepted Ehlinger in the end zone with five minutes remaining in regulation.
While Oklahoma seemed to be comfortably ahead, 31-17 with five minutes remaining, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch tried to settle his guys down.
OU had been down this road before. After getting healthy fourth-quarter leads against Kansas State and Iowa State, the Sooners collapsed and lost both games.
Another implosion — which likely would have hurt more than the other two combined — nearly happened.
The Longhorns (2-2, 1-2) cut the Oklahoma lead to 31-24 with 3:28 remaining in regulation when Ehlinger hit Joshua Moore with a 9-yard pass.
Oklahoma had a chance to end the game with two minutes to go, but Rattler’s third-down pass to Austin Stogner fell incomplete. Texas, who had no timeouts remaining, took advantage of the extra time to march downfield. Ehlinger’s 2-yard pass to Keaontay Ingram with 14 seconds left tied the game at 31.
Ending the game with a defensive stop was “huge,” Grinch said.
“You change a few things and you can play the game saying if this happens and this happened, we’re 3-0 at this point,” Grinch said. “That’s not reality. Reality is this team, this defense specifically, has not found ways to finish football games yet.
“Why’d it have to go that way again today? I can’t tell you. What’s it gonna take? Believe me, I hope it’s this for our guys to realize that at no moment in that game is it over. You’re never winning, you’re never losing. You win or lose ultimately when the scoreboard goes to zeroes.”
OU had a chance to win the game in the third overtime. Perrion Winfrey blocked Cameron Dicker’s 33-yard field-goal attempt, but Gabe Brkic missed a 31-yard field goal to send the game to a fourth overtime.
The Sooners took a 53-45 lead after Stoops’ touchdown following Rattler’s two-point conversion throw to Theo Wease. Texas had first-and-goal at the OU 9 before Brown’s interception ended the game.
Rattler finished 23-of-35 passing for 209 yards and three touchdowns. He also had an interception. Mordecai was 5-of-7 passing for 52 yards.
Rattler celebrated with his teammates sharing the Golden Hat, the symbolic trophy which will once against stay in Norman until next year’s game.
“Shout out to the defense. They played a hell of a game,” Rattler said. “But you know, our offense was ready for whatever things happened, and we went out there and we did it. So very, very happy with how we played in overtime today.”
— By Eric Bailey, Tulsa World
It was also the best thing the 2020 Sooners have ever been a part of, given both where they have been lately and where they could have been headed with a different outcome.
OU holds off Texas in four-overtime thriller at Cotton Bowl. COURTESY/Sooner Sports TV
Social media erupted during two instances when it appeared Oklahoma could have put the game away.
This was a tired, sore team leaving Dallas. Happy and relieved, too, but completely spent. The extra week of rest and preparation for TCU is a blessing for the Sooners.
Barry Switzer and the Sooners perfected triple-option offense and, ultimately, would become more synonymous with the wishbone than any other program.
Kickoff is 11 a.m. and gates will open at 10. Admission is free and the game will be shown on the stadium’s new 67-foot HD video board.
Since their first-ever game in 1900, OU and Texas have played 115 games. After last season, Texas leads the overall series 62-48-5.
OU and Texas will meet for the 136th time in Saturday’s 11 a.m. game inside the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
A look at the matchups for Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff between the Sooners and Longhorns.
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Entering the Oct. 10 weekend in 2008, there were four Big 12 teams within the top eight of the AP poll: Texas at No. 1, OU at No. 4, Texas Tech at No. 7 and Oklahoma State at No. 8.
For Tom Herman, who at the 43-game mark of his University of Texas employment is 27-16 overall and 18-11 in the Big 12, there are big-time implications this weekend.
Oklahoma has allowed 31 fourth-quarter points in back-to-back losses against Kansas State and Iowa State.
While Oklahoma redshirt freshman Spencer Rattler will start his fourth college football game when the Sooners take on No. 22 Texas, his counterpart Sam Ehlinger will take the field for a school-record fifth time against OU.
Lincoln Riley must win mind game with players unaccustomed to losing like this