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FORT WORTH, Texas -- Yet again, it came down to the final drive.
Facing fourth-and-13 in the final seconds, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin lofted a potential game-tying pass toward Josh Boyce in the end zone. Except Julian Wilson and Tony Jefferson collapsed on Boyce to tip the pass away.
Yet again, Oklahoma found a way.
|Maligned for the last few weeks, the Sooners' defense held TCU to 350 total yards.|
"That's how we've been doing things," coach Bob Stoops said. "Making it exciting."
After taking down West Virginia on a last-second touchdown drive, then beating Oklahoma State in overtime, the Sooners prevailed over TCU 24-17 with a red zone stand in another fourth-quarter thriller to capture at least a share of the Big 12 title and likely a BCS bowl berth.
"You just have to find a way to win," center Gabe Ikard said. "That's what we did these last three weeks.
"These three games define us as a team."
At the end of last season, and the beginning of this one, the Sooners would have succumbed in these kinds of games. Kansas State outplayed Oklahoma late to seal a September win in Norman. Top-ranked Notre Dame dominated the Sooners in the fourth quarter, as well.
But during this defining late-season stretch, the fourth quarter has been Oklahoma's. And Saturday was no different.
The Sooners hardly played their best. A red-hot Landry Jones cooled off from his last two performances, tossing a senseless interception that led to TCU's only points of the first half.
The defense finally kept an opponent under 40 points but had its blunders, too, surrendering an 80-yard touchdown pass to ex-Oklahoma commitment Brandon Carter in the third quarter when the Sooners had all the momentum.
And when Oklahoma was on the brink of finally putting the Frogs away, its special teams let them back in the game. Justin Brown's punt return fumble resulted in a TCU field goal, which cut the margin to a single score in the fourth quarter. Then at the end of Oklahoma's ensuing drive, Michael Hunnicutt's 42-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left to give the Horned Frogs life.
But once again, when it was do-or-die, the Sooners came up big.
Following Hunnicutt's misfire, freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin drove TCU all the way to the Oklahoma 12. Even after Boykin's touchdown keeper was called back on an obvious holding penalty, the Frogs still had a chance. But cornerback Aaron Colvin made a sure-handed tackle to limit Boyce to a short pass play. Then on fourth down, Jefferson and Wilson read Boyce's fade pattern all the way before smacking the ball out of his arms.
"This team is so resilient," Jones said. "Whenever we've needed a drive, we've got it. Unfortunately, we didn't finish the way we wanted to as an offense. But as a team, we did."
A month ago, it seemed more likely that Jones would regrow his mustache than lead the Sooners to a BCS bowl, much less contend for the Big 12 title.
West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU were not to be as good as they projected in the preseason. But the season-ending stretch still figured to be brutal. Especially with the OU offensive line ravaged by the injuries and Jones still working out the timing with all his new transfer receivers.
But somehow the line held down the fort, despite losing every starter to an injury at one point or another. And Jones began playing the best ball of his career with a collection of receivers that emerged as one of the best in school history.
The defense had its struggles, giving up yards in record numbers to West Virginia and Oklahoma State. But against TCU, Mike Stoops' unit reverted to early-season form and stood tough at the end.
"We didn't play as well as we could have had, or we should have, but we played well enough to win," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "These last three games have been extremely hard, gut-wrenching, everything-you've-got and see-if-you-can-win-it.
"Last year, we didn't feel like we were mentally tough or played with character. But you'd have to say after the last drive at West Virginia, the overtime last week and the game today, that we do have character and we do have tough kids. You can only build on that."
These last three weeks, these Sooners have been gutty and tough. They're BCS bound and Big 12 champs now, too.