By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahoma State will no doubt be happy to see Oklahoma wide receiver-punt returner Jalen Saunders graduate.
A year ago against OSU, Saunders had an 81-yard punt return and caught 10 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown in OU’s 51-48 overtime victory.
Saturday, he scored the winning touchdown on an eight-yard pass from Blake Bell with 19 seconds left and had a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown.He set up another score with a 36-yard run.
“We practiced red zone plays every week period,’’ Saunders said. “It was like second nature to us. We knew what we had to get done and we had our composure out there and did a great job of going out there and scoring a touchdown.’’
The victory cost the Cowboys a second Big 12 championship in three years. Justin Gilbert came within an eyelash of clinching the game for OSU when he couldn’t quite hold on to what would have been the game-winning interception just a few plays earlier.
“They were just throwing and catching,’’ said OSU defensive coordinator Glen Spencer. “They hit us on a couple of intermediate routes. They got ahead of a seam player. We had an opportunity. Justin made a heck of a play, it just bounced out. We pressured them some. We dropped back some. We mixed it up. We had to make a play and we didn’t.’’
OU coach Bob Stoops said he felt the game would be decided on special teams, turnovers and third down conversions.
OU won the special teams with Saunders’ touchdown and had one turnover. OSU had an interception, which the Sooners converted into a touchdown, and a fumble, which Eric Striker returned three yards for a score at the end of the game.
Both defenses were dominant on third down (OU was 2 of 15 and OSU 2 of 13), but the Sooners converted three of three fourth downs, including a fake field goal for a touchdown. The game might have been decided when OSU’s Desmond Roland was stopped on a fourth-and-goal at the Sooner one.
“That was huge,’’ Stoops said. “Gabe Lynn made a physical tackle. He was outmuscled about 30 pounds, but he came in and made a big play there.’’
OSU would have taken a 14-7 lead if Roland had scored. They settled for a 41-yard Ben Grogan field goal to take a 10-7 lead, only to see the Sooners come back to tie the game on a 21-yard field goal by Michael Hunnicutt with 38 seconds left in the half.
Roland, on the game’s first play, went 75 yards for an apparent touchdown, only to have it called back because of a holding penalty.
Roland rushed for 144 yards on 21 carries, but had only 33 yards on nine tries in the second half.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,’’ Stoops said. “Our linebackers were scraping too wide which was leaving the inside open.’’
“We were able to rush the ball,’’ said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “We just didn’t convert. Ultimately in the end, we just didn’t play well enough in the kicking game and didn’t convert in the third quarter when we had an opportunity and our defense was playing real well.’’
Enid’s Clint Chelf, playing his last home game, was 19 of 35 for 200 yards. He was sacked only once, that coming on the last drive.
Chelf was 4 of 4 for 84 yards in taking OSU on a seven-play, 89-yard drive that culminated in a Roland one-yard run to give OSU a 24-20 lead with 1:46 remaining.
Chelf was not available to the media after the game, so his thoughts weren’t known.
Cowboy fans long will point to what they thought was a block in the back on Saunders’ punt return and what they thought was an interception by Gilbert in the end. Grant Bothun’s eight-yard TD pass to Hunnicutt on the fake field goal was reviewed but upheld.
Gundy said he thought Gilbert had caught the ball and he was on the ground when the ball rolled out.
“But again, I don’t have as good a view as you guys do,’’ Gundy said.
Both teams finished the regular season 10-2. OU left elated. OSU left with a heavy disappointment.
“I wish they would’ve won today,’’ Gundy said. “I think it’s important that they know that I feel the same way about them now as I did before the game. I just wish we could’ve made a play there at the end so we could enjoy a Big 12 championship.”