The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

December 8, 2013

COLUMN: For Cowboys, an epic ‘Poke Choke’

STILLWATER, Okla. — Depending upon your allegiance, Saturday’s Bedlam clash in Stillwater either will go down as one of the most exciting in the series between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State or will stand out simply as another “Poke Choke.”

Oklahoma’s improbable comeback 33-24 win had enough back and forth high drama to keep a sellout crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium sufficiently distracted from the brutal cold that had the game time temperature at 17 degrees in chilly Stilly.

And it ruined what appeared to be a storybook comeback engineered by Enid’s Clint Chelf.

For the first 56 minutes of the game, OSU QB Chelf and his receivers were out of sync, with Chelf either throwing wide, or his receivers dropping the rock-hard football in those cold temperatures. But with around four minutes remaining, and down 20-17, Chelf found his rhythm and gave the Sooners the blues. Temporarily.

Driving a suddenly resurgent Cowboys offense 89 yards, the previously lifeless Pokes took the lead 24-20 when Desmond Roland scored on third and goal with 1:46 remaining. Roland’s score, his third of the game, sent the Pickens throng into a real state of Bedlam, as the Pokes appeared to have finally exorcised once and for all their Sooner demons with their second win in the last three years over OU, along with their second Big 12 title in that time span. And a Fiesta Bowl berth was in sight.

But becoming a champion means learning how to put games away, and while Oklahoma has had decades of practice in that regard, the Pokes showed they are still the Sooners’ little brother, quite capable of aggravating them, but unable to triumph consistently.

Answering Chelf was OU QB Blake Bell, who took over in the second half after starter Trevor Knight did not return to the game from the halftime locker room due to injury and with the game tied 10-10. And the man whose namesake Belldozer offense, known more for his running than passing, passed the Sooners swiftly into Pokes territory and then found Jalen Saunders, who also accounted for OU’s only first half touchdown with a 64-yard punt return, in the corner of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown with 19 seconds remaining and suddenly Sooner Nation was back in charge of Bedlam.

And that earthquake that was felt in central Oklahoma originated well to the south in Waco, Texas, as fans there awaiting the start of the Baylor vs. Texas game, reacted to OU gift-wrapping the Big 12’s BCS bowl berth to the winner of the Longhorns-Bears contest. It also added insult to the Cowboys, who delivered the lone conference losses to both Baylor and Texas, but are now on the outside looking in thanks to the Sooners and that puzzling early season loss to West Virginia.

OU added a touchdown with no time left as they recovered a fumble on the Cowboys’ desperation hook-and-ladder at the end of the game in a fitting end to OSU’s late game collapse, and in the long list of Poke chokes in the Bedlam series, this one may climb the ladder to No. 1.

The Sooners, who, make no mistake, earned the win and deserve massive credit for persevering and creative play calling, such as the 8-yard touchdown pass from holder Grant Buthon to kicker Mike Hunnicut on a fake field goal that tied the game at 17-17, have now won nine of the last 10 games in the series and own an overwhelming 84-17-7 advantage overall.

The game had shades of last season too. Just as Oklahoma did not take the lead until late in the game in their 51-48 OT win last season, they didn’t lead until just over 10 minutes were left Saturday when Hunnicut’s 39-yard field goal put them up 20-17.  It was a bad omen for the Pokes, much as the opening play of the game may have portended bad things ahead when Roland rushed 75 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown before it was called back on a holding penalty.

Prior to the game, legendary ex-OU head coach Barry Switzer tweeted out “Sooner’s (sic) will Hang Half a Hundred Saturday! Anyone want to bet Old Coach!!!” He was off on the point total but, his postgame tweet summed it up accurately when he tweeted “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER count the Sooners out in BEDLAM!!! YOU WILL GET BEAT!!!”

The Sooners never seemed panicked and that comes with years of knowing how to win. It seems to be passed down, maybe that’s why the Cowboys are now left to ponder another crushing Bedlam setback. For all the bravado coming from Stillwater this season, one fact remains and that is the Cowboys’ lasting legacy is providing yet another example of how not to win the big game.

In the painful litany of Poke chokes, this one may hurt the most at OSU.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.

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