There’s something about a close college football game that just is unmatched by any other sport. The tension of a one-score game with 6 minutes left to go in the middle of a regular season game with a middle-of-the-pack opponent? I live for that. At least, I do so when my team emerges victorious.
From 2016 to 2019 at OU, I was incredibly fortunate to witness my team emerge from close scrapes again and again unscathed. You don’t win 6 straight Big 12 titles without knowing how to close out the close game. For some people, the stress of those games would be killer. For me, they were the best sort of thrill.
24: Oklahoma 52, TCU 46 – 2016
On the first of October 2016, my life was a lot different than it is now. For one, Elizabeth was just a friend of mine, not my future spouse. For another, I was just happy to have friends at college whatsoever. Those friends, and Max in particular, had organized a watch party at the private theater inside Headington Hall, the athlete’s dorm, as Oklahoma prepared to take on TCU in the Big 12 opener.
Now, at the time, Oklahoma didn’t have dynastic control over the Big 12. It had just been the year before when the Sooners had to conquer Baylor to win the conference title, not the other way around. The 2016 non-conference losses to Houston and Ohio State had also been disasters. Who knew where the season was going? When TCU jumped out to a 21-7 lead on three first-quarter TDs from Kenny Hill, it seemed like the answer was “nowhere good”. But in the second quarter, Oklahoma began to show why they were a preseason national title contender, ripping off a 42-3 stretch that included Dede Westbrook’s introduction to the national scene with a pair of TDs. Meanwhile, Jenna and I were trading barbs over a rock fight between Michigan and Wisconsin, that I was probably paying more attention to on my iPad than the game on the big screen. One of the true highlights of the day was when someone switched the screen to the end of the Georgia/Tennessee game, which famously ended with Georgia hitting a hail mary only to lose when Tennessee subsequently hit a hail mary of their own.
As for OU? They nearly blew a damn 49-24 lead. Things got really sketchy when TCU got the ball back with a 52-46 deficit and 2 minutes left. Fortunately, Obo Okoronkwo clutched up to get OU into the win column. They would never lose again in 2016, and I would never pay more attention to another game in 2016.
23: Oklahoma 34, Texas 27 – 2019
I actually watched very little of this game live. Contrary to popular opinion, I am very willing to put the game away if I’m doing something more important. Visiting family definitely counts for that. Elizabeth and I decided to take our three-day OU/Texas weekend our senior year and visit my family so that she could see Michigan in the fall. And if we did it, we were gonna do it all out As much as I love a good Red River Shootout, I love apple orchards and corn mazes just a little bit more. I don’t have the picture of all of us together at the corn maze from that day, but it was so fun. Michigan put on a full display of what October weather can be like – sunny, breezy, and the perfect temperature after a classic long hot Oklahoma September. The apples were delicious – we took a bag of them as a personal item on our flight back and made apple crisps back in Norman. The corn maze was fun – I found chalk somewhere, and used it to mark stalks so that we knew which routes to take and which ones not to take. And towards the end of a perfect day, Taylor, Kyle and I split some flights of hard cider and the whole family sat down for a farm-fresh meal at the farm’s restaurant.
The game itself was also pretty fun. I was able to watch the first quarter on Big Noon Saturday. On the drive down to where the farm was (my memory is fading, but I think it was around Saugatuck), app notifications informed me that the Jalen Hurts to CeeDee Lamb hook-up was indeed doing big things (Lamb would score 3 TDs, including 2 mind-boggling scores). I watched the whole game the next weekend while drinking with James, which was a 34-27 Sooner win to keep them undefeated and in the playoff hunt.
22: Oklahoma 29, Texas 24 – 2017
Another close Red River Shootout. One of the funnier parts of my time as an OU student was the constant stream of “classic” Red River games. I already mentioned the 2019 game above, which was probably the least dramatic of any of the seven meetings between Oklahoma and Texas from 2016 to 2021. And that one was decided by a single score!
The 2017 game was also decided by a single score, although Oklahoma led fans to assume otherwise as they stormed out to a 20-0 lead in the first half. Myself, Elizabeth, and her sorority sisters who were gathered at the Tradition’s West clubhouse where Nicole worked could all take solace in this blazing start. Then, the typical curse of 2017 OU struck as the offense went cold just in time for the defense to give up a steady stream of annoying 3rd down conversions to a backup QB. Texas’s young gun Shane Buechele was out, and his replacement was a freshman named Sam Ehlinger. Ehlinger didn’t throw the ball well, but he ran it 22 times for 110 yards against a Mike Stoops defense determined to not ever defend the QB run. In hindsight, Mike Stoops was a crime against humanity.
Anyways, Texas eventually clawed their way back into the game and even took a 24-23 lead on an Ehlinger TD run with 8 minutes to go. For the Sooners, it was gut check time a week after blowing a big lead against Iowa State. Would they blow another big one and derail the promise of Lincoln Riley’s first campaign and Baker Mayfield’s last? Well, that’s not really how Baker rolled. He found Mark Andrews for a 59 yard touchdown immediately. After some nervy moments on defense late, OU had gotten back on track with a 29-24 win. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Weirdly, I have like no pictures from any of these days (Elizabeth, feel free to send me a few to update this post with).
21: Oklahoma 28, Army 21 (OT) – 2018
Never schedule service academies.
Let me say it one more time so that hopefully I never have to see this happen to one of my teams again.
Never schedule service academies.
In 2018, Oklahoma did their part to Support The Troops by inviting Army down to Norman for the first half of a home-and-home (the second game was cancelled due to covid). There was a part of me that hoped that the defensive improvements that Oklahoma had shown in non-conference play so far (shutting down Lane Kiffin and Chip Kelly!) would translate to this game. But also, I figured an offense purpose-built to slow the game down and get three yards at a time would be a major headache to watch.
This was the first of several famous Leah/Jordan parties at their apartment at The Edge. Since I lived one building over from their apartment, it was pretty easy to pop in with my famous buffalo chicken dip. The drinks flowed; good friends, good food, and good football is not a bad mantra for a tailgate.
September 2018 was a soupy, swampy monsoon month and this game was no exception. It was just cool enough to justify wearing a sweatshirt if you really pushed the Nolan Meister criterion, but also humid as all get out.
After a quick Elizabeth footwear change, we headed over to the stadium for the game. The clouds held until the sun had set behind the western stands at Owen Field. Couldn’t have drawn up a better September night for football. The game was heavy on festivities Respecting the Troops between drives, which presumably is the whole reason OU scheduled it in the first place.
And as for the football? It went almost exactly how I expected. Army had no answers for Kyler Murray in the first half. OU scored on their first three drives, all in rapid succession. And meanwhile… Army’s first two drives were identical 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drives that took 18 minutes off of the game clock. It was 21-14 OU at the break.
All of a sudden, Oklahoma stopped scoring. Murray threw a pick on OU’s first drive of the second half, and Army responded by going on a 19-play touchdown drive that put them in the end zone 11 minutes later. Oklahoma responded quickly, getting the ball into the red zone early in the 4th quarter. Then, somehow, the undersized Army front stuffed Trey Sermon from the 1 twice. And all of a sudden, they had a chance to go 99 yards and possibly ice the game.
Army literally did exactly that. Except, with only 3 minutes on the clock and the ball inside the OU 30, the Sooners bucked up and forced a tackle for loss on first down. Then they did the same thing on second down. Then, with Army suddenly forced to pass, they came up with a huge interception. The Black Knights’ plan had backfired, and now OU could go kick the final field goal. Murray and Sermon pounded it into the red zone, and with time expiring, the always-reliable Austin Seibert strode on to take the game-winning field goal from 33 yards out. The kick soared up. Next to me, Jordan started screaming and cheering. But her voice was alone in a sea of students sitting in stunned silence. Somehow, Seibert had missed. Not only was Oklahoma on upset alert, but Army had forced them all the way to OT.
I dreaded the knowledge that if Army scored in OT, they were going for two. An entire game had shown me that they would get those 3 yards if needed. Other people knew, as well. The game wasn’t televised on cable, and a guy streaming his Pay-Per-View on Twitch from his phone briefly became famous for showing 80,000 people his feet. Those people were rewarded with the sight of Murray calmly tossing a TD to Lamb to make it 28-21. I winced, knowing how unlikely it was that the Sooners would get the stop. Army’s methodical triple option attack got 3 on first down. Then, a break. Someone on the otherwise metronomically efficient Army offensive line jumped, putting them behind the sticks. Then they tried a trick play pass, and it didn’t work. All of a sudden, OU had Army where you want them – having to pass. And on 4th and 7, Parnell Motley picked off the game-sealing interception. It was over.
It was fun. I loved every second of it. I hated every second of it.