Oklahoma 30, Texas 27 (1OT)

October 12, 1996 | at Dallas | Attendance 75,587

For the first time in the Red River rivalry's 91-year history, Oklahoma and Texas squared off as members of the same conference. The new league, the Big 12, consisted of all the former Big Eight conference members and the former Southwest Conference elite of Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, and the teams were split into two even divisions. And considering the instant credentials, two-time defending national champion Nebraska, six wins against one loss in bowl games, and seven teams ranked in the final '95 AP poll, the name was appropriate. But that was not all that was different or significant surrounding this annual game.

Once a program known for stability, buoyed by the legendary status of Bud Wilkinson and then Barry Switzer, for the third straight year, there was a new coach walking the sidelines for Oklahoma. In Norman, such instability had not been seen since the period from 1965-67, when Jim Mackenzie's untimely death in April of '67 forced the quick promotion of Chuck Fairbanks.

After just one tumultuous 5-5-1 season, Howard Schnellenberger was gone, and in his place was John Blake, the school's first minority head coach. He was a former high school star in the Tulsa area, All-Big Eight Oklahoma nose guard and then Sooners assistant, before moving up to the professional ranks as a defensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys, where he earned Super Bowl rings in '93 and '95. Blake returned to his alma mater with a strong recommendation from his former Oklahoma coach, and current third-year Cowboys coach, Switzer.

Though Blake didn't have the coaching resume of his predecessor, and had never worked as a coordinator at any level, after consecutive .500 seasons, Oklahoma athletic director Donnie Duncan felt the best way to revive the program was through recruiting. Blake had always been a strong and effective recruiter, and it was something the Sooners direly needed entering the first year of the Big 12. Duncan had since left Oklahoma to take a job with the conference.

And at age 34, Blake was not that far removed from his playing days in the early 80's. Switzer had always had an open relationship with his players, and he planned to do the same, something that was different than the way it was done the past seven years under Schnellenberger and Gary Gibbs, and something Blake hoped would translate into success on the field. But in Norman, he didn't find a ready-made team waiting, but one with a comparatively bare cupboard upon his return.

Blake inherited a team that had lost their final three games of '94 by a combined score of 98-10, unable to score in the last ten straight quarters, resulting in consecutive shutouts. Inexperience would be a major factor, as the Sooners returned only 11 starters, and two were on the special teams. Three key players returned on offense, inconsistent sophomore quarterback Eric Moore, senior running back James Allen, and junior tight end Stephen Alexander, but the primary concern would be the linemen. Fortunately, six players were back on defense, and Martin Chase and Rod Manuel anchored the line, one of the team's strengths, with linebackers Tyrell Peters and Broderick Simpson providing more than ample support, and defensive back Anthony Fogle leading the secondary. That was what the rookie coach had to work with.

Unfortunately for Blake, to say he was struggling mightily in an almost unprecedented manner would probably be an understatement. For the first time in 35 years, Oklahoma had started out 0-4, against the likes of such non-powers as TCU, San Diego State, Tulsa and Kansas by a combined score of 154-86, and they had not even faced the tougher teams in the Big 12 yet, but hopefully the same fate awaited these Sooners, as Bud Wilkinson's '61 squad did an about-face and rebounded to win their final five games. In '96, Oklahoma had already given up 50 points in a game not once, but twice, and that was against a defense that was supposed to be among his least worries. Blake also became the first Sooners rookie coach to arrive at the Red River rivalry game winless in 95 years, since Fred Roberts had made his debut against Texas way back in 1901. And the Sooners were coming in mired in a school-record seven game losing streak.

Meanwhile, Texas came in with its own problems of late. Under fifth-year coach John Mackovic, who had the program back on solid ground, the Longhorns were coming off a 10-2-1 record in '95, in the history books as the last champions of the late Southwest Conference. They possessed as much offensive firepower as any team in the country, returning all of their skill players from an offense that set a school record, led by elusive and dangerous junior quarterback James Brown, whose health was key after being bothered by shoulder problems in '95. Supporting him was an experienced cast comprised of fast and powerful sophomore fullback Ricky Williams and a trio of seniors, speedy tailback Shon Mitchell, tight end Pat Fitzgerald and receiver Mike Adams. However, their defense remained a problem, and the Longhorns needed to rapidly improve in that area.

To begin '96, Texas had been ranked #8, among the preseason top ten for the first time in a dozen years, picked to win the new Big 12 South division, emerge as a viable candidate to challenge Nebraska from the north in the conference's inaugural title game, and possibly factor into the national championship equation. However, once sixth-ranked and heading for prominence, after consecutive frustrating close losses against #9 Notre Dame and at #19 Virginia, the Longhorns came in just 3-2 and ranked #25, a team looking to regroup and salvage their season, and where better to start than against their bitter rival whose rookie coach had still not won a game, Oklahoma.

But a few unexpected bright spots had emerged for the Sooners while on their bumpy road. Faced with an unproductive offense in the TCU opener, a game in which they did not score until halfway through the fourth quarter, Blake had little choice, and he had to hastily pull the trigger, and in came some youngsters.

First, he replaced the incumbent Moore at quarterback, an agile lefty with a knack for big plays, but an inaccurate passer, and in went highly recruited redshirt freshman Justin Fuente. In high school at Tulsa Union, Fuente was a unanimous selection for Oklahoma's '94 high school offensive player of the year and a Parade All-American, and he threw for 6,119 yards and 68 touchdowns in his career, including a state record 2,934 yards with 32 touchdowns as a senior. After taking over the offense, Fuente had already thrown for 814 yards and four touchdowns, and was maturing nicely.

The other key change came in the backfield, where quick and fast freshman DeMond Parker emerged as the featured back. A former high school standout at state powerhouse Booker T. Washington in Tulsa, he was also gradually worked into the lineup in the opener and then burst onto the scene with a 244-yard, three-touchdown day against San Diego State. Parker entered the Texas game coming off three straight 100-yard performances, having rushed for 576 yards, an average of 144 per game, and four touchdowns. Now in a supporting role, for his part, Allen came in having rushed for 170 yards and one score.

Oklahoma and Texas had played to a 24-24 tie a year earlier, but given the Sooners past ineptitudes and the Horns untapped potential, it was easy to see why Oklahoma went into the Cotton Bowl as 22-point underdogs. On a windy and sunny Saturday, and in front of the 51st straight sellout crowd of 75,587, both teams buttoned down their chinstraps.

Texas got on the board first when Phil Dawson kicked a 47-yard field goal. Deep in their own territory, Oklahoma's special teams continued their struggles. One week after Kansas had touchdown returns off a kickoff, punt, and blocked field goal, Texas broke through and blocked a punt, and freshman Dustin Armstrong recovered the ball in the end zone. After Dawson's extra point, the Longhorns had a 10-0 first quarter lead.

But Oklahoma bounced right back up off the canvass in the next period. Fuente guided the offense down the field, and the Sooners were bale to get on the board via Jeremy Alexander's 31-yard field goal. Next, Fuente found redshirt freshman Jarrail Jackson for an eight-yard scoring pass, his first collegiate reception, and Alexander's extra point made it 10-10. But they weren't done, and after Alexander kicked a 35-yard field goal, the Sooners stunningly had a 13-10 lead over the heavily favored Longhorns.

Texas' offense finally solved Oklahoma's defense. It came in the form of a six-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Adams. After Dawson did his thing, the Longhorns had a 17-13 lead into the locker room.

The second half opened as a defensive struggle, as it was clear that the inspired Sooners were playing with much more confidence. After a scoreless third quarter, the game headed into the final period, and it was anyone's game.

For all intent and purpose, Oklahoma was without Parker. Bothered by an asthma problem, he had gained 91 yards in the first half but only 16 yards in the third quarter, carrying only once in the fourth, for no gain, and the ground game would be in Allen's hands the rest of the way. But it was Texas who took the lead early in the fourth when Williams went in from seven yards out, and Dawson increased the lead to 24-13.

Their defense again held Oklahoma, and the Sooners returned the favor, forcing a punt from deep in their own territory. Mark Schultis booted the ball, and Jackson fielded it around midfield, dodged a few tacklers, and took off, returning it 51 yards for a touchdown. Down by five, Blake opted to go for a two-point conversion, and Fuente completed a pass to Stephen Alexander. The Sooners had cut the Texas lead to 24-21 with 6:44 left.

After holding the Longhorns, Oklahoma again took over with 4:30 showing on the clock. Fuente drove them down to the Texas 28, where Jeremy Alexander kicked a 44-yard field goal to tie the game 24-24 with 2:26 left, erasing an 11-point deficit in the span of 4 ½ minutes.

Incredibly, the Sooners forced another Longhorns punt, and took over at their 46 with 1:11 left. Allen then took a pitch around the left end and scampered 45 yards to Texas one-yard line, but the play was called back for an offensive holding penalty, and a huge break for the Longhorns.

So, at the end of regulation, the score was tied at 24, the exact same score as last year's game. However, also new to college football in '96 was an overtime rule, but not sudden death as in the professional ranks, which gave each team an opportunity from the 25-yard line until a winner was decided.

Oklahoma won the coin flip, and then chose to play defense on the opening possession, and Texas lined up at the Sooners' 25. They lost one yard on their three plays, and Mackovic and company settled for Phil Dawson's 43-yard field goal, and a 27-24 lead. It was now up to their embattled defense.

Oklahoma then lined up at the 25, and it was Allen that carried the load, having already rushed for 112 yards after the first half, including 76 on eight carries in the fourth quarter. First, Allen picked up ten yards, then two more, and then three. Faced with a third down-and-five from the ten, Fuente threw a screen pass to Allen in the left flat, who then broke safety Chris Carter's tackle at the line, and turned it into an eight-yard gain.

The Sooners had first-and-goal at the Texas two. On the next play, his fifth straight, Allen took a pitchout through the right side and into the end zone as the Oklahoma fans erupted. It gave the Sooners an improbable 30-27 comeback victory in one of the greatest finishes, and upsets, in the long rivalry. While the Sooner Schooner led a wild celebration, only their second victory over Texas in the last eight games, the Longhorns were left lamenting missed opportunities in a game they had in hand.

Blake's first victory as Oklahoma's head coach couldn't have been sweeter for him or his Sooners, coming against one of their most bitter rivals, in the first year as conference adversaries, and in their first-ever overtime game. "I think if something is meant to, that it's going to happen," he said afterwards. "We came here 22-point underdogs, and were told we weren't supposed to be here and win this game. I just believe in my kids, but I can't predict what is going to happen from here." He continued, "It really is a tremendous relief for me, mainly because of the kids. I want to enjoy this victory with my players, my coaches, the people who stood beside us, and the fans. They worked so hard."

Allen played the finest game of his Oklahoma career, and one of the best games in the 91-year Red River history. He ran for a game-high and career-high 159 yards on 23 carries, was the team's leading receiver with both five catches and 51 yards, and scored the winning touchdown, not to mention his 45-yard run that was nullified by a penalty. "Today was one of those things that I want every Saturday," he said. "Every Saturday I go out there with the mentality that today is going to be the day."

The previously winless Sooners were overjoyed because they had been overdue until finishing the overtime, as more than a few observers wondered whether they could possibly finish 0-11. The victory also ended their 14-game winless streak (0-13-1) against Top 25 opponents, and Oklahoma improved to 1-4 overall, and 1-1 in the Big 12 South.

Meanwhile Texas (3-3, 2-1) has now lost three of its last four games with the most difficult part of its schedule to come, and was staring at a busted season. "We had our chances in the fourth quarter to take control and couldn't move it," said Mackovic, who added that his team was not in condition for the final quarter. "We did not do what we needed to do to win."

The Longhorns' once potent offense struggled despite gaining 344 total yards. Williams gained 99 yards on 21 carries and caught four passes for 59 yards. Brown completed 21 of 37 passes, without interception, for 227 yards and one touchdown.

And the Texas defense also continued their woes, as the Sooners piled up 441 yards in total offense. Oklahoma rolled up 276 yards rushing, for in addition to Allen's huge day, Parker contributed 107 on 24 carries, giving the Sooners a pair of 100-yard rushers for the first time since the '92 Missouri game and marking the first time an Oklahoma duo had done it against Texas in 25 years. And Fuente finished 15-of-34 for 165 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.

"We have to pull together and figure out where we go from here," Texas linebacker Tyson King said. "We have to rebound. If we could put our finger on one thing, we would have done it after the Notre Dame game. The season's not over. We're still in the Big 12 race."

True, but amazingly, so now were Blake's Sooners.

Source: Jeff Linkowski

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