Oklahoma 26, Tennessee 24

January 1, 1968 | at Miami | Attendance 76,563

In 1966 under Oklahoma coach Jim Mackenzie, the Sooners had improved from a 3-7 season to 6-4, and the future looked bright for a return to the elite in college football. Unfortunately, the 37-year-old coach died from a massive heart attack before the '67 season, and defensive backfield coach Chuck Fairbanks took over.

Oklahoma had begun the '67 season unranked, but after consecutive shutouts of Missouri and #9 Colorado, running the Sooners' record to 5-1, their only setback a 9-7 loss to Texas, they jumped into the November 6th AP poll at #8, and they closed the season with a big 21-14 road win at Nebraska. Behind a defense that featured senior unanimous All-American middle guard Granville Liggins and All-Big Eight end John Koller, they had posted four shutouts and permitted an average of 6.8 points per game.

Oklahoma was scoring an average of 26.4 points per game with an offense led up front by senior All-American offensive tackle Bob Kalsu, and behind him was junior quarterback Bobby Warmack, who in his second year as a starter had thrown for 1,136 yards and four touchdowns, while sophomore halfback Steve Owens led the Big Eight conference in rushing with 808 yards, and was the leading scorer with 12 touchdowns and 72 points. The Sooners finished 9-1, claimed the Big Eight title after a four-year absence, and finished ranked #3 in the polls, and with that came an Orange Bowl date.

Waiting was #2 Tennessee (9-1), marking only the second match up ever between the two schools, with the first coming 29 years earlier in the '39 Orange Bowl. After suffering an opening 20-16 loss at UCLA in '67, the Volunteers had won their next nine games in a row, including a 24-13 decision at Alabama that ended the Crimson Tide's three-year unbeaten streak at 25, to become Southeastern Conference champions for the first time in 11 years. Under fourth-year coach Doug Dickey, they were playing in their third straight bowl game.

Tennessee came in averaging 25.9 points a game and their offense was led by senior quarterback Dewey Warren, the most prolific passer in school history who had thrown for almost 3,200 yards and 27 touchdowns in his three years as a starter and had been the MVP of each of Tennessee's two previous bowl games, and senior All-American center Bob Johnson. Leading a defense that had permitted an average of 11.5 points per game were two tough sophomore linebackers, Jack Reynolds and sophomore Steve Kiner.

Although a slight underdog to the Volunteers, Oklahoma's offense came out smoking in the first half under the lights. They scored three touchdowns on a seven-yard run by Warmack, a 20-yard pass from Warmack to end Eddie Hinton, and a one-yard run by Owens. After missing the extra points on the last two scores, the Sooners had a 19-0 lead, and that was the way the two teams headed into the locker room. Warmack had been sharp, completing nine of 13 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, and on the ground, had combined with Owens and Ron Shotts for 150 yards and two touchdowns.

In the second half, Tennessee's first series was stopped at the Oklahoma 14. But, on the ensuing set of downs, the Vols' Jimmy Glover intercepted a pass and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown, and the Karl Kremser's extra point made it 19-7. Then with 5:07 left in the third quarter, a five-yard Charley Fulton touchdown run closed it to 19-14, which is how the game headed into the final period.

In the fourth quarter, Kremser kicked a 26-yard field goal that narrowed the gap to just two points, 19-17. But Oklahoma defensive back Bob Stephenson broke the momentum when he intercepted a pass and ran 25 yards into the end zone to provide the Sooners with some breathing room, and after Vashon's extra point, the lead was 26-17. Tennessee responded with a 77-yard drive capped with a one-yard plunge by Warren, and Kremser's kick made it a two-point game again, 26-24, with 4:05 left in the game.

The Sooners, who had seen a 19-0 halftime lead disappear, could not move the ball wand were forced with a fourth down-and-one from its own 43-yard line. Oklahoma punter Gordon Wheeler had a superb game, punting five times already for a 47-yard average, and it seemed like the logical call to pin Tennessee back in their territory. Instead of giving the ball back to the Vols, Fairbanks gambled and went for a game-clinching first down, but the blitzing Kiner and Reynolds stopped Owens plowing up the middle.

The Volunteers had time for one more drive with 1:54 left. Warren and the offense made their way downfield, and with just seven seconds left, Kremser lined up for a potential game-winning 43-yard field goal attempt. His kick sailed wide to the right, and it left Oklahoma with an exciting 26-24 victory, vindicating Fairbanks.

Source: Jeff Linkowski

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