Tramel: Sooners looked empty but find a way to beat Texas in four overtimes
DALLAS — The Sooners looked empty.
As empty as the cattle barns, which didn’t even so much as emit an odor.
As empty as the field at halftime, while videos played historic concerts of the Pride of Oklahoma and the Showband of the Southwest.
As empty as the Texas Star Ferris Wheel, moving ever so slowly, just to remind the relatively few fans in attendance that, yes indeed, a glorious state fair once thundered through these grounds.
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger and his scrappy Longhorns had taken this Twilight Zone OU-Texas game to overtime. The Sooners had the game in hand but long ago lost the ability to hang on to even the most comfortable of leads.
In the final 4½ minutes, two touchdown drives engineered by Sudden Sam had wiped out a 14-point deficit and all memories of OU’s dominant third quarter.
The Cotton Bowl, already a ghost town because of the pandemic crowd somewhere south of the announced 24,000, was turning into a casket for a Sooner season that had left the rails.
Texas had all the momentum and the ultimate overtime quarterback. A four-year veteran who has played in more OU-Texas fistfights than any man in history and who is fabulous near the goal line, since he’s a burnt-orange ox.
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“There’s one team probably more excited being in overtime than the other,” said OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, and he didn’t mean his Sooners.
But almost an hour later, with both teams looking like Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa in the 15th round, the Sooners exploded in glee and the ‘Horns slumped in despair.
OU won 53-45 in four — count ‘em, FOUR — overtimes, somehow finding the will to win that evaded them after fourth-quarter meltdowns against Kansas State and Iowa State.
Tre Brown’s end-zone interception of Ehlinger’s second-and-long pass brought this game to a merciful close and proved that the Sooners, despite their many flaws, haven’t bailed on this crazy COVID season.
“I can't say enough about the fight of our guys,” Lincoln Riley said. “The last couple of weeks have been hard on our team, and we've had to really bear down. I've never been prouder of a football team than I am this team right now.”
The Sooners played great in overtime.
Spencer Rattler’s offense scored every time Riley asked it to — after Perrion Winfrey blocked a Texas field goal in the third overtime, Riley ordered a second-down field goal from Gabe Brkic. He promptly pulled it left.
The OU defense found the energy to twice stop Ehlinger, with the blocked field goal and Brown’s interception.
Quite the reversal of the Sooners’ recent penchant for going gently into the good night.
“What an unbelievable college football game that was,” Riley said. “I told the team in there, the history of this game is as good as any in college football. 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.”
Well, let’s not get carried away. This game proved mostly that neither OU or Texas is championship material. They both trail the States (Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State) by two games in the loss column. Arlington is going to have some fresh blood come December.
Texas makes as many goofy mistakes as do the Sooners, and the Sooners appear to have a little more firepower. Heck, OU even found some bully ball of its own.
The Sooners’ eight-minute, 17-play, 87-yard drive in the third quarter produced seven first downs and a 31-17 lead. That drive alone took the fight out of Texas, and only Ehlinger’s Big Tex-sized heart rallied the Longhorns.
Ehlinger ran and passed the ‘Horns back into this game, and when he flipped a 2-yard touchdown pass to Keontay Ingram with 14 seconds left in regulation, no one thought the Sooners would leave Fair Park as winners.
The only question was, would Texas coach Tom Herman try to win it in or overtime or just end OU’s misery right there with a 2-point conversion, since three measly yards seemed no hurdle for Ehlinger.
But Herman went to OT, and he also disdained a 2-point conversion after the second overtime. I get it. Ehlinger’s a great overtime quarterback. But OU seemed in no shape to stop Ehlinger once he put his head down and bulled his way towards the goal line.
“We did a little better job corralling Sam there at the end,” Riley said. “He’s tough, man.”
Ehlinger seemed gassed himself at the end. Almost five hours of running from Isaiah Thomas and Brian Asamoah and Nik Bonitto will do that to you.
Now Ehlinger goes down as 1-4 against the Sooners, losing to four different quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield in 2017, Kyler Murray in 2018 (Big 12 title game), Jalen Hurts in 2019 and Rattler in 2020. Ehlinger finally was the best quarterback on the field, and it still didn’t matter.
Ehlinger has proven hard to beat, and OU did it four times.
Texas is always hard to beat for the Sooners, even when they’re overmatched. They weren’t overmatched Saturday.
The Sooners just found a way to win, not so much salvaging a season but giving them a fine memory of a very strange day in the Cotton Bowl.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.