ARLINGTON, Texas — Oklahoma and Baylor came to Jerry Jones’ palace and spilled blood and guts all over the place. The Sooners spilled a little more in overtime and won a Big 12 Conference championship as a result.
That clinched a potential College Football Playoff berth and a fifth consecutive league title, which was wildly impressive but still felt secondary in the moment the clock struck 0:00.
OU defensive tackle Neville Gallimore sank to a knee for a long, exhaustive prayer.
Running back Rhamondre Stevenson darted around the field so crazily he lost his Big 12 championship ball cap.
Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, the toughest nut to crack on the OU staff, smiled as if he’d just seen a deer pick flowers.
The Sooners gathered on stage for the trophy presentation, and down below staff analyst Austin Woods slapped a hug on defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. When Grinch let go, he dropped his chin to his chest and cocked his head slightly, looking as relieved as he was elated.
Never mind playoff implications and what was happening as LSU and Georgia kicked off and what might happen in the Big Ten and ACC Championships later...
Never mind the near future, what about the past four hours?
“I’m proud of this team, man,” head coach Lincoln Riley said after he was finally done hugging his players, his parents and anyone else walking through the confetti shower with him on Jones’ field. “These are hard. You’ve gotta appreciate ’em. A lot of credit to Matt Rhule and his staff. That football team over there, we’ve got a ton of respect for them, the way they play.”
The Bears lost quarterback Charlie Brewer midway through the second quarter and still kept coming. They kept pounding away, quite literally, and that cost the Sooners safety Brendan Radley-Hiles early, right tackle Adrian Ealy halfway through and then running back Kennedy Brooks late.
The Sooners kept pounding away, too.
“Two teams getting after it,” OU safety Delarrin Turner-Yell said. “A great competitive game. Everyone was taking blows. Others were giving the blows.”
OU defenders gave some every snap, whether with a pass rush that Grinch described as “relentless,” or with pass coverage defined by Parnell Motley locking down All-Big 12 receiver Denzel Mims, or with middle linebacker Kenneth Murray going forward, backward and side to side with designs on blowing up everything in his path.
This was two brass-knuckled sides of a street fight. The difference was OU’s defense was a little more steely.
“We made Baylor work extremely hard just to get a single yard,” safety Pat Fields said.
The Bears strained to get 265 — two completions by third-string quarterback Jacob Zeno covered 159 of them — and eight first downs. They were under attack all afternoon from the likes of Jalen Redmond, the defensive end who was popping his shoulder back in place when he wasn’t chasing/sacking Brewer and Zeno.
“He would be the poster child tonight,” Grinch said, “in terms of the battle and the resilience and all those things.”
If not Redmond, then how about Tre Brown? The OU cornerback sprinted nearly the length of the field to chase down and tackle Chris Platt after Platt’s 78-yard catch-and-run late in the game.
Platt would have scored without Brown’s fight and pursuit, and that would have put Baylor ahead 27-23 with four minutes remaining. Brown brought down Platt at the 17, the defense stiffened and Baylor kicked a field goal for a 23-23 tie.
Overtime followed. Stevenson, replacing Brooks as the lead back, scored a go-ahead touchdown.
Zeno took his shot. Gallimore, Redmond, Nik Bonitto and Ronnie Perkins took their shots at him, Redmond’s near-sack forcing a desperate incompletion on fourth-and-20, and the Sooners started celebrating.
Riley and Bedenbaugh both wrapped up OU quarterback Jalen Hurts on the sideline before they all waded into the pandemonium. Hurts, too, seemed relieved.
He hadn’t had his best day. Baylor clogged his running lanes while taking the ball from him twice.
“They do have some guys,” OU guard R.J. Proctor said of Baylor’s defense. “I mean, across the board. Hats off to them.”
Hurts hung in, though, just like everyone else in this punishing game. He showed some warts but mostly some resilience, also like everyone else.
“There is a narrative out there that the SEC is a different animal,” Hurts observed, “but the Big 12 is tough.”
The Big 12 Championship backed that up. The two participants did their conference proud, regardless of where they go from here for their bowl game/playoff appearance.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule called it “heartbreaking” and “painful” before leaving the scene, but he also made sure to trumpet Murray’s winning grace.
“That kid comes right over to me and hugs me after that game,” Rhule mentioned, “him and Neville Gallimore.”
Murray and Gallimore eventually got around to celebrating, Gallimore to heavens-thanking. Later they no doubt began scoreboard-watching, their playoff fate still in LSU’s and Georgia’s hands.
There was some nuance to what happened in this game, some consequence. After it ended, OU assistant coach Shane Beamer hoisted his little girl above his head and screeched, “We’re the champions!”
But the game really was the thing here, all that it took to compete in it and gut out a win.