Oklahoma 27, Kansas State 24

December 2, 2000 | at Kansas City | Attendance 79,655

The fact these were the two teams were in Kansas City battling for the conference championship was a great tribute to the players' will to win and the coaching brilliance of the two staffs involved, for many felt that if pure talent dictated who met in this game, there was no question it would be a match up between Texas and Nebraska. However, Oklahoma beat both of those teams and Kansas State during a memorable October stretch on its way to a perfect season to this point. And then two weeks after losing to Oklahoma, Nebraska's championship hopes melted in the Manhattan snow on a 12-yard Jonathan Beasley to Quincy Morgan touchdown pass with just under three minutes left in the game to complete Kansas State's 29-28 upset victory over the fourth-ranked Huskers, the game that propelled the Wildcats to win the north and into the Big 12 title game, and crushed any shot Nebraska had at a national title.

There was a lot riding on the outcome of the game, a rematch of the Sooners' 41-31 win, in which they really dominated much more than the score indicated. Oklahoma and Florida State were first and second in the last Bowl Championship Series standings and, based on computer projections, seemed certain to remain that way if the top-ranked Sooners (11-0) won, also avoiding becoming the third team in five years to miss a chance at the national title by losing in the Big 12 title game, and they would head to the Orange Bowl to play the Seminoles for the national championship. On the other hand, a Kansas State (10-2) win put them in a major bowl and would bring the Wildcats a lot of overdue respect, but they would not play for the national title, Miami would slip into the Orange.

It probably sounds crazy, but Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops entered the season expecting to have a rebuilding year, and his team had graduated many of their best players from a season ago. The pundits felt that Oklahoma was not the most talented team in the country, but they were college football's #1 team because for four months they had been the best-prepared and most-confident team in the land. It was a reflection of Stoops and the coaching staff he had quickly assembled, which, as a former understudy of Bill Snyder's at Kansas State, included persuading Mike Stoops, Brent Venables and Mark Mangino to leave Manhattan for Norman. The first two head up the defense and the latter is now in charge of Stoops' spread offense that shocked the league, was more than a quick fix for a moribund program, and carried them to a Big 12 championship game.

The system more than made up for Oklahoma's marginal talent. Senior quarterback Josh Heupel has received a lot of Heisman Trophy hype, but lacking arm strength, the son of a gun seemed to see the whole field, did a great job of playing within the system, made a lot of terrific reads and made the plays that put his team in position to win the games. The offense was loaded with a slew of talented young receivers who seemed to make big play after big play, and with the Sooners spreading everyone out, it made it much easier for the backs to find running room, and the diminutive Quentin Griffin emerged as an effective goal-line runner who scored a lot of touchdowns. With this recipe, the offense was one of the nation's best, and they were averaging 40 points per game.

On defense, the Sooners had a short and undersized line, but all their linemen did a great job of keeping blockers off their two stellar linebackers, team leader and all-American Rocky Calmus and fast and explosive second team all-Big 12 Torrance Marshall, who ran free to make plays all over the field. Their secondary featured only one senior, J.T Thatcher, and they were all big, very athletic and talented, and did not get intimidated. It was a good unit that permitted 15.3 points per game.

Meanwhile, all Snyder has done is turn a place where nobody could win into a place where the team is always in the top 20 and a bowl game. Kansas State entered the season with an experienced senior class pointing towards a national title, an elusive achievement Snyder had been chasing for a decade, posting just a 2-18 record against top ten teams.

His offense was in the hands of Jonathan Beasley, a big-play/bad-play quarterback with average talent who had run for a lot of touchdowns and thrown quite a few long scoring passes, but had only completed about 37 percent of his passes against ranked opponents. Behind him were a pair of backs capable of making big plays, the speedy Josh Scobey and injury-prone David Allen. And the only reason was in this game was that after an erratic and somewhat disappointing senior year, Morgan stepped up and had a monster game to almost single-handedly beat Nebraska. It was a group that was averaging 40.9 points per game.

On the other side of the ball, Kansas State had a run-stuffing tackle in Mario Fatafehi and two quick, undersized pass rushing ends in Monty Beisel and Chris Johnson. Supporting them was an average group of linebackers, and an overrated but pretty solid secondary, led by hard-hitting strong safety Jarrod Cooper. Collectively, they allowed 17.8 points per game.

One key to this game that would be much different, and an often-overlooked factor, was that the game would take place outdoors, at night, in December and in a cold-weather venue. Another key would be the two weeks that the Wildcats had to prepare for the Sooners, and they may have learned a few things by watching how teams defended Oklahoma in recent weeks. In limiting the Sooners to just 12 points in the season finale, Oklahoma State generally dropped seven to eight men into coverage and let the Sooners dink and dunk short, but kept everything underneath the coverage. On the other hand, Texas, Nebraska and Kansas State all rushed and blitzed the Sooners, and they gave up nearly 150 points between them.

With the stakes never higher for Oklahoma, the top-ranked team looked jittery to start the game. Safety Roy Williams recovered a fumble by Beasley on the fourth play of the game at the K-State 27, but Griffin was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-goal from the one. Later, a 33-yard field goal by Tim Duncan provided the only points of the opening period.

Heupel threw interceptions on consecutive first quarter possessions, the second of which set up Beasley's ten-yard touchdown scamper that put the Wildcats ahead 7-3 six seconds into the second quarter. K-State then moved to a 10-3 lead on a 22-yard field goal by Jamie Rheem with 7:58 left in the half.

On the Wildcats' next possession, they were forced to punt. Oklahoma's Josh Norman raced up the middle past long snapper Neil Gosch and blocked Travis Brown's punt, giving the Sooners the ball at the K-State 17. Heupel found his rhythm and range, first hitting receiver Damian Mackey for seven yards and then Griffin out of the backfield for nine. They finally cashed in when Heupel hit tight end Trent Smith for a one-yard scoring pass with 2:56 left in the half, and a 10-10 score, which is how the two teams went into the locker room to warm up.

Midway through the third quarter, Heupel directed the Sooners on a 69-yard drive. He capped the march with a seven-yard touchdown run to regain the lead for Oklahoma, 17-10, with just less than six minutes on the clock. After the Sooners' next offensive possession came Kansas State's best moment.

Aaron Lockett fielded a low, short punt by Jeff Ferguson, and it gave Oklahoma no chance to tackle him. Lockett ran 58 yards for a touchdown that tied the game. Rheem's extra point tied the game, 17-17, with 3:29 left in the period. It was their only offense of the quarter. Beasley and Allen had been effective running the option together, but for some reason, the Wildcats went away from that play. After rushing for 22 yards on five carries in the first half, Allen never carried the ball the third quarter, a dangerous trend.

Towards the end of the period, Oklahoma was on the move again. They started at the 21, and Heupel hit Smith for 22 yards. Then came a critical call when Kansas State's Cooper was flagged for pass interference on second and 20, the 12 yards giving the Sooners an automatic first down. Three plays later, Oklahoma was facing a fourth down-and-inches at the Wildcat 39, and they were too far away to try a field goal, but close enough to run a play. Stoops and Heupel would get extra time to talk about it, for the quarter ended, and the teams would switch sides.

When K-State's defense had to come up big, Oklahoma put the best of everything it had together. The Sooners had been unsuccessful most of the night on short-yardage situations up the middle, including the Wildcats' goal-line stand on their first possession of the game. This time, the Sooners reached into they're past and went wide with an option, albeit not wishbone style. Heupel's inaccurate pitch sailed behind Griffin, who quickly adjusted to catch the ball one-handed about two yards behind the line of scrimmage, then tucked it under and squirted through for a clutch 22-yard gain. It was a huge play, and possibly the play of the game thus far.

With the wind howling, with two-thirds of the Arrowhead Stadium crowd 79,655 cheering against him, on the next play, Heupel dropped back. He fired a 17-yard scoring strike to receiver Andre Woolfolk over the middle, who took the ball in front of cornerback Jon McGraw in full stride and amid cheers from the crimson-and-cream corners. It was just the second play of the fourth quarter, and there was still 14:24 remaining after Duncan's kick made it 24-17.

The Sooners' defense stiffened to prevent a Wildcat comeback, and shortly thereafter, the oranges and victory hats started to fly. A bit later, in the last few minutes, Heupel ran the ball over and over to run out the clock. No, it wasn't exactly like old-time Oklahoma football, but it was close enough. Duncan kicked his second field goal of the game, a 46-yarder with 1:25 left that proved to be the winning points, moving the Sooners up, 27-17.

Beasley threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Morgan with six seconds left, but the Sooners recovered the onside kick to preserve its conference title and a berth in the national championship. One play ran out the clock, and for the record, oranges started raining on the field at 10:27 p.m. Mark that moment. Yes, Oklahoma was going back to the Orange Bowl, and yes, that was the moment when Oklahoma football was officially back.

In the end, Oklahoma beat Kansas State 27-24, the biggest college football game ever played in Kansas City. It's the 36th time the Sooners had won a conference title, but the first as a member of the Big 12. Now, Oklahoma, 12-0 for the first time in school history and the nation's only major unbeaten team, are going where the Sooners of old used to be, in the Orange Bowl playing for a national championship, a chance at their first since 1985, when they play defending champion Florida State (11-1) on January 3rd.

"We have a great history with the Orange Bowl," Stoops said, referring to the Sooners' 12-4 record in their favorite bowl. "And I hope that excellent history continues." He continued, "For us to talk about a national championship, we had to win this game. So this was more like a regular-season game and that's the way we embraced it. I'm proud of our guys. This win defines our season."

It's funny that Oklahoma football would come back in the fashion it has, though. For all those years, Switzer and the Sooners won football games and three national titles with a ferocious defense and a relentless option running attack out of the wishbone formation. They were a team built around quarterbacks who ran, running backs who ran, and savage defenders such as Brian Bosworth and Tony Casillas. Well, that Oklahoma football is gone, but the Boz and Tony were there on the sidelines watching these Sooners throw the football all over the field like a Frisbee, but they had to smile when Stoops opted for a throwback play during a critical juncture, the option.

"That was just some Oklahoma football of old," Stoops said. "We haven't forgotten totally about the option."

Now, under coach Stoops' passing game, it was Heupel, in his final Heisman push, who overcame a season-high three interceptions, completing 24 of 44 passes for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns. "We're going to enjoy this one for a week or two," Heupel said. "It's been a great ride. To win a Big 12 championship, to beat Kansas State twice, there's a great chemistry on this team. We've found a way to win."

In a defensive battle, Oklahoma's rugged and under appreciated defense came up big, holding Kansas State's explosive offense to just 239 yards in the game, the Wildcats' lowest output of the season. "I think our defense may have been the story of the game," Stoops said. "It was pretty special. You hold them to 239 yards for the day? That's pretty strong."

Kansas State fell to 10-3 and appear headed to either the Cotton or Insight.com bowl. "I hope Oklahoma wins the national championship for the Big 12," Snyder said. "We just weren't good enough to make a difference in the game tonight."

Source: Jeff Linkowski

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