The OSU defense has been stellar throughout much of the season and was again for much of the day Saturday as the Cowboys attempted to win their second Big 12 title in three years.
But with the game on the line, the Sooners drove 64 yards and scored the game-winning points on Blake Bell’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Saunders with 19 seconds remaining. The Sooners added a fumble return for a touchdown on the last play of the game.
The Sooners touchdown drive in the game’s final two minutes came after quarterback Clint Chelf directed a masterful drive to give the Cowboys a 24-20 lead with 1:46 remaining. He had completed only eight passes down the field when OSU took over on its own 11-yard line. But on four consecutive plays he completed passes of 14 yards (to Josh Stewart), 27 (to Charlie Moore), 20 and 23 yards (both to Tracy Moore) to give the Cowboys a first-and-goal at the 5. Three plays later, Roland scored his third touchdown of the day on a 1-yard run to give the Cowboys the lead.
But the Cowboys lost because they couldn’t make the plays when they were needed, including what appeared to be a game-winning interception by cornerback Justin Gilbert in the game’s final minute. Gilbert came down with Bell’s pass intended for OU receiver Lacoltan Bester near the 10-yard line but when the Cowboys cornerback landed on his back Bester reached in and pulled the ball out of his hands. The official ruled it an incomplete pass, and the Sooners had new life.
“Gilbert’s interception I thought he caught the ball and had it,” Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy said.
It wasn’t that one play that lost the game; it was more the plays the Sooners made that proved to be the difference.
** OU’s first touchdown came on Jalen Saunders’ 64-yard punt return. He also returned one for a TD in last year’s 51-48 overtime victory over the Cowboys.
** The Sooners tied the game 17-17 on a fake field goal for a touchdown late in the third quarter after it appeared the OSU defense had stopped the Sooners after Chelf’s interception gave OU the ball at midfield. On fourth-and-goal from the 8, holder Grant Bothun scrambled to his left before throwing to kicker Michael Hunnicutt for the touchdown.
** Then, Gilbert had the game-clinching interception stripped by Bester which would have sewed up an OSU victory, given the Cowboys the Big 12 title and a second trip to the Fiesta Bowl in the past three years.
"I’m so proud of this team and the way they’ve competed and what they stand for and what they’ve been able to accomplish,” Gundy said. “(Oklahoma) made keys plays at times and we didn’t; they converted a couple of fourth downs and we didn’t convert; we lost the kicking game and the kick game is always important. That was really the difference.
“When you’ve taken the program that these players have and you lose a game it hurts. When the other team scores late it always hurts worse,” Gundy said. “These guys have played so well and every time they lose now it’s like it’s the end of the world.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword. We’ve built this thing to where any time you lose a game it’s kind of like the earth is falling in but we’ve got to keep rolling, correct our mistakes and try to find where we had issues and try to make it better for the next one,” added Gundy.
The Cowboys defense also held the Sooners to a field goal on the final drive of the first half after OU had a first-and-goal from the 5. Hunnicutt’s 21-yard field goal tied the game 10-10 at halftime.
OSU cornerback Kevin Peterson’s interception on the first play of the second half gave the Cowboys the ball and it took just six plays for Chelf to direct his team 82 yards for a go-ahead TD. The fifth-year quarterback from Enid, Okla., found Roland wide open for a 15-yard score to give the Cowboys a 17-10 lead.
But OSU’s offense did not manage anything on its next five drives. With the defense shutting down the Sooners offense, if the Cowboys could have even managed one score who knows what would have happened. But the offense’s next five possessions after the go-ahead TD were:
1, punt after a three-and-out,
2, one first down but a holding penalty was costly and led to a punt,
3, one first down before Chelf was intercepted by OU’s Julian Wilson, and the Sooners than scored on the fake field goal to tie the game 17-17,
4, punt after a three-and-out, and OU took a 20-17 lead on Hunnicutt’s 39-yard field goal,
5, one first down on a pass interference call but then another punt.
“We didn’t convert in the third quarter when we had an opportunity when our defense was playing really well,” Gundy said.
Chelf and the Cowboys offense finally got rolling on the 89-yard drive, but they scored too early as they allowed Bell and the Sooners to drive for the game-winning score.
“These are great guys. They played their butts off and I told them they put themselves into the elite of this conference, much less the country now, so when you lose a game it hurts. That’s the way you want it to be,” Gundy said.
“We give credit where credit is due. Oklahoma made those plays at key times.”
The mistakes started on the very first play of the game when Roland took the handoff from Chelf and went untouched for a 75-yard touchdown around the left end. However, Cowboys receiver Charlie Moore was flagged for holding on the play and instead of lining up for an extra-point kick the offense was back on the OSU 22-yard line facing a first-and-13. The Cowboys were flagged for two false start penalties on the same drive – tight end Jeremy Seaton and guard Parker Graham were the culprits – and eventually punted.
After their first two possessions led to punts from deep in their own territory the Cowboys’ offense appeared to find its rhythm despite starting from their own 1-yard line. The Cowboys went 99 yards in 10 plays – mostly behind the running of Roland (36 rushing yards on four carries) and Jeremy Smith (14 yards on two attempts) – to score the game’s first points on Roland’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Clint Chelf had a terrible series the next time the Cowboys touched the ball. Jeremy Smith was forced to make a leaping catch which led to him falling down for a 6-yard loss on first down, Chelf’s second-down pass should have been intercepted by Julian Wilson and his third-down pass also fell incomplete.
OSU’s Kip Smith was called on to punt from his own 15 and boomed a 49-yard punt that OU’s Jalen Saunders was able to return 64 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 18 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Cowboys bounced back and appeared to be ready to take the lead, driving from their own 28 to a first-and-goal at the 8. Roland punched it down to the 1 with two runs, but Kye Staley and Roland were both denied on on third and fourth downs.