NORMAN, Okla. — There have been a lot of great punt returners to come through the University of Oklahoma, but with his performance on Saturday Antonio Perkins might have just proved to be the best.
Perkins returned not one or two, but three punt returns for touchdowns (an NCAA record) and finished with 277 return yards (another NCAA record) as top-ranked Oklahoma's routed UCLA, 59-24, Saturday in Norman. BYU's Golden Richards had held the previous record for return yards with 219 against North Texas in 1971.
"It's great to help the team win and it means a great deal to me too," said Perkins. "Only my name goes down in the record book but I wish that the whole punt return unit could go down in the books also."
UCLA led the Sooners 10-7 early in the second quarter, but a 12-yard touchdown pass from Jason White to Travis Wilson at the 12:11 mark gave Oklahoma the lead for good.
And from that point on it was time for the Antonio Perkins show as the junior from Lawton returned two punts in the second quarter for touchdowns (74, 84) to give the Sooners a 28-10 lead at the half. And late in the fourth quarter, Perkins would break the records with his third punt return — this time on a 65-yarder for a score with 2:39 left in the game.
"What a special player," said Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops on Perkins. "We've been close the last few games, just one guy off here and there that we've intended to block on and give him a chance. He just has an incredible knack for it and he has incredible speed."
"When I woke up this morning I told my blockers that I felt great," Perkins noted. "I had confidence in them and told them to go out and make something happen tonight. It's all them. It's not really me."
"We worked hard the whole week at practice and the whole week leading up to the game. We worked hard on punt returns and finishing our blocks. I think that was the determining factor. We just got it done today."
Speaking of getting done — Oklahoma's offense continued to do just that on Saturday. Led by senior quarterback Jason White, the Sooners racked up 354 yards of total offense against the nations' 10th ranked scoring defense.
White set the tone on the Sooners' first possession when he hit Mark Clayton over the middle for 47-yards and set up OU's first score of the game — a 15-yard touchdown run by Renaldo Works.
And after a UCLA 48-yard field goal and 11-yard touchdown run by Manuel White put them up 10-7, White would led the Sooners on an eight-play, 80-yard drive which was capped by the touchdown pass to Wilson.
Oklahoma forced a quick turnover early in the second half, and three plays later White found tight end Lance Donley wide open for a 22-yard touchdown pass on third and short to put the Sooners up 35-10 at the 1:27 mark of the third quarter.
UCLA would cut OU's lead to 42-24 after a 91-yard kick-off return for a touchdown by Maurice Drew, but White led the Sooners back on the next possession with an 11-play, 80 yard drive capped by a 1-yard run by Renaldo Works.
Teddy Lehman set up the Sooners next score — a Trey DiCarlo added a 41-yard field goal — with an interception off a tipped pass. And then Perkins sealed the win with his record-breaking 65-yard punt return late in the fourth quarter to put the Sooners up 59-24.
"It was a great test for our offense," said White, who completed 17 of 25 passes for 248 yards. "UCLA has a great defense and it was a good test for our offense. We needed to come out and score some points against a good defense and I think that we took advantage of it today. We still made some mistakes throughout the day that we can improve on."
Five of White's completions were to junior wideout Mark Clayton, who finished with a game-high 118 yards receiving.
"Clayton had a great day once again," said White. "He's had four great games. He's a great receiver and he's always working to get open and he's always catching the ball. I'm not going to shy away from him.'
Also not to be forgotten is Oklahoma's defense. Playing without starting cornerback Derrick Strait (held out for precautionary measures) and injured linebacker Lance Mitchell (out for season) for the first time this season, the Sooner defense still managed to dominate. Oklahoma's defense forced and recovered one fumble and picked off two passes, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Strait's replacement — Eric Bassey — for a 34-yard touchdown.
Mitchell's replacement — sophomore Wayne Chambers — filled in nicely and finished with six tackles while making his first start and appearance as a Sooner this season.
"Wayne was given a game ball and he was pretty solid," said Stoops. "He had a couple of times where he may have been out of position, but overall he played strong."
"Right after that first drive, with 90,000 cheering, I was still nervous," Chambers said. "After we got off the field and came to the sidelines, everybody told me that I did good so that kind of eased me down.'
"You always want to be prepared because things like this do happen. Things are different when you know you're going to play. I tried to be perfect all week in practice."
Overall, Stoops was pleased with the win.
'It was a special day," said Stoops. "What a perfect day to play football. The fans were great, what a perfect environment.'
'UCLA's head coach, Karl Dorrell, is doing an excellent job. They are a team that has a bunch of good players, and fortunately for us we had some guys really step up and make a lot of good plays today, starting with Antonio Perkins.'
"I thought we had opportunities to come back, but the way (Oklahoma) performed on special teams, it was quite depressing for us," said Dorrell. "Watching (Antonio Perkins) make those returns broke our backs. He's a great athlete.'
'We played a very good football team today," Dorrell continued. "I think they are very deserving of their No. 1 ranking."
Perkins' big day lifts OU over UCLA
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