By Michael Kinney
ARLINGTON – Before Oklahoma could think about its postseason aspirations, they had some unfinished business to take care of. When they took the field Saturday morning, their dominance of the Big 12 was on the line at the 2019 Big 12 Championship.
The Sooners came into the game having won the conference championship four straight years. They made it five with its 30-23 overtime win over No. 7 Baylor at AT&T Stadium. OU improves to 10-1 all-time in the conference title game.
“Winning championships is hard, and winning is not easy,” OU quarterback Jalen Hurts said. “Coach (Lincoln) Riley talked about it every day, emphasize it every time, so we talk about situations in the game where we may have momentum or we may not, regardless it’s not supposed to be easy. We expect it to be that way. The mental toughness of this team and how we go about our business every day, just putting emphasis on focus, energy, passion, kind of the monumental aspects of our team. We embrace it all and we attack.”
Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb earned the Most Outstanding Player award after hauling in eight catches for 173 yards, which is the second-most receiving yards in a championship game. In the past two championship games, Lamb has accounted for 14 catches and 340 yards.
“CeeDee has been a really, really good player for us for a long time,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “He’s a dynamic player and we have prided ourselves on getting the ball to our best players as much as we can and he did a great job with the opportunities that he’s had.”
All of Lamb’s work looked like it might be wasted when the Sooners and Bears started overtime. But a touchdown run by Rhamondre Stevenson gave OU the early lead and put the pressure on Baylor.
Then, it was up to the defense to close out the contest. Nik Bonitto picked up a third-down sack and Jalen Redmond got into the backfield on fourth down to pressure the ball out. The pass flew harmlessly to the ground and the Sooner’s celebration began.
Hurts completed 17 of 21 passes for 287 yards and a touchdown and rushed 23 times for 38 yards.
Kennedy Brooks rushed 17 times for 59 yards. He also caught two passes for 24 yards.
The OU defense racked up five sacks on three Baylor quarterbacks and held them to 265 total yards.
“We pride ourselves to be as disciplined as possible,” OU safety Patrick Fields said. “We try to play as fast as possible and as aggressive as possible and make teams really work to beat us. We made Baylor work extremely hard just to get a single yard.”
It was in the Sooners’ second possession of the day, that Lamb showed Baylor exactly what they missed out on in their first matchup when he had to sit out due to an injury. The junior broke tackles from seemingly the entire Bear’s defense on his way to a 71-yard reception down to the six-yard line.
“I felt like at that point I was opening it up for my teammates,” Lamb said. “I wasn’t frustrated or anything, I wasn’t thinking nothing, I was just telling (Riley) what I was seeing and we just kind of went from there.”
Two plays later Brooks finished off the three-play drive with a six-yard TD run that gave Oklahoma a 7-0 advantage.
The Sooners were on the verge of going up by two touchdowns on a Charleston Rambo catch in the endzone. However, replay officials said he didn’t have control and it was wiped away. Oklahoma settled for a field goal.
With the way the OU defense was playing in during most of the first half, it didn’t seem to matter if the Sooners ever scored again. Led by Kenneth Murray, the OU defense swarmed all over the Bears. They allowed a total of 16 yards and one first down in the first quarter.
Even in the second quarter when Hurts fumbled and the Bears recovered on the Sooner’s 30-yard line, Oklahoma’s defense held fast and forced Baylor to kick a field goal.
A second Hurts turnover deep in Oklahoma territory set the Bears up again. However, this time the Bears made the Sooners pay. Backup quarterback Gerry Bohanon threw a TD to Tyquan Thorton in the back of the endzone to tie the contest at 10-10.
Baylor added another field goal to close out the first half with a 13-0 lead.
The Bears’ defense held Oklahoma scoreless in the second quarter, which was only the ninth time in 44 quarters that the Sooners haven’t scored in a quarter in a championship game.
Oklahoma came out of halftime with a tone-setting drive. Hurts led the offense down the field and inside the Bears 20-yard line but that is where they stalled.
The Sooners settled for a Gabe Brkic field goal to tie the game.
Baylor would not be so lucky on Oklahoma’s next possession. Big plays by Lamb and Stevenson set up a Nick Basquine touchdown catch. It was his third career TD reception and first since the 2016 season
Trailing 23-13, it looked like the game was getting away from the Bears. They then inserted their third quarterback Jacob Zeno. On his second play from scrimmage, he completed a short pass to Tresten Abner, who sprinted 81 yards for the touchdown.
Trailing by three, it looked like the Bears were going to hit the endzone again but a game-saving hustle tackle by Tre Brown forced Baylor to settle for a field goal and send it into overtime.
“We are an effort-based defense, and you got to see us make one of the key plays of the game on a great effort by Tre running them down, and then the defensive line was relentless all day,” Riley said. “That’s the way you’ve got to play. Our guys have bought in and we’ve done it early, and it’s kind of time here in key moments and games, and we’ve gotten better and better as it’s went on.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider