Sunday, January 2, 2011
Sooners end drought, rewrite ending
By David Ubben
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Even in a passing glance, the Sooners look bigger.
Turn that into a three-hour, 34-minute stare like in Saturday night's Fiesta Bowl, and there's no argument about the bigger, faster, more talented team.
Sooners cornerback Tony Jefferson intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown to help seal Oklahoma's 48-20 victory.
Oklahoma was all three, and proved it with a 48-20 win over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.
"It's huge. We continued where we left off [in the Big 12 Championship against] Nebraska," said junior linebacker Travis Lewis. "Going into next year with most of the guys coming back, the sky is the limit for this team."
It wasn't a perfect game for the Sooners, who surrendered a pick-six in the first half to keep the Huskies' hopes alive and led by just 14 entering the fourth quarter. A dominant final period with a pick-six of their own provided the final score, and ended Oklahoma's five-game BCS bowl losing streak, giving the program its first win on the big stage since 2002.
"It's fair to say that probably had a strong impact on the players," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said of talk surrounding the program's highly public failures. "We've maybe not had the best fortune in some of the other ones, came in with not all of our players. ... You are playing another championship team. You are going to have a hard time winning. I'm not going to sit here and act like we weren't ready in some other games, but we were more healthy in this one and these guys worked hard and they had an attitude to play in this game."
The Sooners, for once, didn't fall victim to someone else's fairy tale ending.
This time, there was no West Virginia-loving hometown coach bringing home the program's biggest win ever. Bill Stewart was a whole mess of country roads away from Phoenix on this night.
This time, there was no Bible-verse spouting figure fulfilling a midseason promise to his entire fan base at the Sooners' expense. Tim Tebow is busy delivering mile-high salutes in the NFL, and his promise can't hurt Oklahoma twice, even if it was immortalized by being engraved outside the Gators' stadium.
This time, there was no postgame proposal after the Sooners got hooked-and-laddered while America fell in love with its new non-AQ darling. Boise State experienced its own heartbreak in 2010 and finished its season in Las Vegas.
Connecticut has only been playing FBS football for a little more than a decade, and receiver Kashif Moore wore No. 6 in honor of teammate Jasper Howard, who was fatally stabbed during the 2009 season and for whom the Fiesta Bowl would have been his last game.
The Huskies had the story. Oklahoma ripped up the script.
On this night, the Sooners' Texas-bred, five-star recruits and golden-armed quarterback did what they were supposed to do. The 17-point favorites won by 28.
That doesn't mean the Sooners didn't write a satisfying end to a story of their own, a story with a beginning fans would like to forget, but an ending they'll long remember.
"Being able to hoist that Fiesta Bowl trophy, there's nothing like it," Lewis said. "All those lost BCS games, that's all of us. We're all Oklahoma. This is for the guys that lost those games."
But of course this isn’t a book, this is college football. And in this world there is always next year. For Oklahoma, Saturday’s ending could be a beginning -- the prologue in a story that has already ended seven times with a national title for the Sooners.
Lewis and wide receiver Ryan Broyles have decisions to make about their NFL futures. But even if both bolt Norman for richer soils, both helped springboard the Sooners to what could be a run toward a national championship in 2011.