It was just like old times. Only this time when Oklahoma beat Nebraska in the final game of the year to win a conference title, they were given a trophy instead of showered with oranges.
After a one year hiatus, the eighth-ranked Sooners (11-2) returned to the top of the Big 12 mountain Saturday night in Kansas City with a 21-7 win over storied rival Nebraska (9-4), giving them their eighth straight win this season, third straight over the Huskers and their fourth conference championship in the last seven years.
"They just pulled together the entire year and never made excuses," said Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops during his postgame press conference. "We had plenty of excuses if we chose to grab on to them — nobody ever did. They just kept working through the year."
"The assistant coaches deserve a great deal of credit. Managing the different personnel changes we've had through the year, they've done it in a great, great way."
And it was in a great way that Stoops' Sooners knocked off the 19th-ranked Cornhuskers in front of the largest crowd (80,031) to ever watch a Big 12 title game.
Oklahoma's offense did it with the pass, not the run, as senior quarterback Paul Thompson outperformed the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's defense played with their backs against the wall seemingly all night long, yet still found a way to force four turnovers.
"You gotta give credit to Oklahoma today," said Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan. "We just couldn't answer when we had to answer. They played terrifically throughout the night.
"We spotted them an early score, and we never did get back from that deficet. You have to credit the Sooners for a fine job. Excellent coaching job.
The players outperformed us. They outcoached us. They were just excellent in every capacity. We just didn't have enough.
The Sooners jumped on the Cornhuskers early when defensive back Marcus Walker stripped Nebraska receiver Maurice Purify after a catch on the first play from scrimmage.
Reggie Smith picked up the fumble and returned it to the Nebraska 2-yard line, and one play later Allen Patrick plunged into the end zone to give Oklahoma the quickest score in history of the Big 12 title game and a 7-0 lead at the 14:24 mark of the first quarter.
Two drives later, Thompson would hit a streaking Malcolm Kelly down the sideline on a play-action pass for a 66-yard touchdown, OU's longest offensive play of the season, to stretch the lead to 14-0 lead with 5:35 to go in the first quarter.
But in the second quarter, the Huskers would capitilize on a Thompson interception at the Oklahoma 23-yard line, and three players later cut the lead to 14-7 on a 14-yard touchdown pass by Taylor with 4:37 to go in the half.
Oklahoma would receive the ball to start the second half, but Nebraska's stout rushing defense pinned the Sooners deep and forced them to punt out of their end zone on two consecutive drives. However, the third drive was the charm.
Faced with with a 3rd and 10 situation with the ball on the half-yard line, Thompson hit tight end Jermaine Gresham on a play-action pass for a 35-yard gain that would ignite a drive that put the final nail in Nebraska's coffin.
On the drive, which went 99-yards on 11 plays in just under four minutes, Thompson was almost perfect completing 6 of his 8 pass attempts with the last a beautifully thrown fade route to Kelly, who leaped over the Nebraska defensive back and came down with one foot in bounds for a 3-yard touchdown that gave OU a 21-7 lead with 1:25 to go in the third quarter.
"Drive of year," said Stoops. "Without question. It was huge. Just a lot of great plays.
"I thought Paul threw some great balls on that whole series and we executed in a great way and punched it in. That was a big blow to them."
From that point on it was in the hands of the defense, who responded by stopping the Huskers inside Sooner territory four times — intercepting Taylor twice — once in the end zone and once inside the 5-yard line — to end two drives in the final quarter.
"They were awesome," said Stoops on his defense, who held the Cornhuskers to their lowest scoring output of the season and 27 points below their season average. "Maybe one of our best defensive games. We gave up a couple big plays, but compliments to Nebraska. They're a good football team and they're going to do that.
"But boy did we come up with a lot of big plays, turnovers and stops when we really had to have them. I just thought the secondary, I thought the coverage was just outstanding. They came with interceptions, pressure was there."
Oklahoma's defense held the Huskers running attack, which came into the game avearging 183 yards per game, to just 84 on the ground on 21 carries. The Sooner D gave up 282 yards through the air, but it took them 23 completions on 50 attempts to get them. They also picked off Taylor, who had only thrown four interceptions all season, three times.
"We had the opportunity to score but you've got to credit Oklahoma's defense," Callahan said. "They were stalwarts today in every respect. You've got to give the champions that credit. They played championship defense."
Back to the offense, what a performance by Thompson, who stepped up when the running game wasn't working and completed 19 of his 34 pass attempts for 265 yards, including two touchdown pass to Kelly.
Speaking of Kelly, his 10-catch, 142-yard performance set Big 12 Championship game records for catches and receiving yards. He also tied the mark for receiving yards in a half (102).
"Their scheme was outstanding," said Callahan on Oklahoma's surprising passing attack. "Their receivers were just exceptional. The matchups just — we just didn't match up real well. They took advantage of everything. They just played better.
"I have no excuses up here tonight. They were the better football team on this date. You've got to give them credit. They deserve it.
"My compliments to coach (Bill) Callihan, his staff, the Nebraska football team," said Stoops, who improved to 3-0 against Callahan and 4-1 overall against Nebraska. "It was a fun, hard-fought game. They played well, we played well.
"Everybody had their moments at different times. We just, fortunately, made some big plays to start the game. We made some good turnovers defensively, the huge drive coming off our own 1-yard line. Paul was sensational throughout that drive.
"We just played great, great defense the entire night. Starting the third quarter, I don't know how many times they had possessions with great field position and we were able to come up with stops."
With the win, Oklahoma clinches a BCS berth in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, which will be played on Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz.
"I've been lucky and fortunate to be in a lot of bowls, and all the BCS bowls but the Fiesta Bowl," Stoops said. "I talked about that with my wife, Carol, this week. That it would be pretty special to win a Big 12 Championship and play in the one I haven't been fortunate enough to be in.
"I know John Junker and the people at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl are some of the best. They're as classy as they come, so I'm sure it will be a great trip.
"We're excited to play Boise. Are they already in? I haven't paid attention. That tells you where my mind's been. If that's the case, then great. It's a great bowl and we're looking forward to it."
Stoops also wasn't willing to talk about what might have been had the outcome been different in Oregon.
"You know what? We can't do anything about it," Stoops said. "For us to sit here and make an issue of it is not going to come off the right way. So you guys call it what you want and we're going to get ourselves ready to play the next game.
"We'll have some great bowl practices, work out young players and keep developing them and look forward to the challenge in the Fiesta Bowl, and enjoying the Fiesta Bowl."
Stats | Notes | Photos
Big XII Champs: Let the Fiesta begin
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