NEW ORLEANS — Alabama's horde was giving chase, and Trevor Knight rolled right. And rolled right. And rolled right.
Seemed to be headed for the mighty Mississipp.
Finally, Knight threw the ball. But not away. He turned his body and threw back against the grain.
No one in Bama crimson, no one in the Superdome, no one watching at home, could believe Knight would throw that pass.
Believe it. Sterling Shepard caught the nine-yard touchdown pass, the Sooners had a 14-point lead and eventually a 45-31 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama that no one saw coming but we certainly see going.
And this is what we see.
The Sooners are back. Back on the national stage, with a young quarterback who just played a game for the ages and a bunch of players back in 2014 and a trophy to hang on their wall that matches any in OU history, shy of a national championship.
“They didn't believe in us,” said OU defensive tackle Chuka Ndulue. “Everybody doubted us. Everybody said they were gods. We shut that up. We pulled it off.”
OU, a 16 1/2-point underdog, won this game with Knight's uncanny passing, and defensive ferocity that threw Bama superstar quarterback AJ McCarron off his game, and a desire to quiet the critics who claimed the 11th-ranked Sooners were fodder for a Bama team angry that it got knocked out of the Big Bowl.
“Our kids came here to play the game, and not just a series or a play,” said OU receivers coach Jay Norvell. “You don't play the game in the newspapers or in the prognosticators. You play it on the field. That's how we did. We came here to play the game on the field and see what happens, and by God, it was an awesome thing.”
Awesome it was. Bama was tough, but so were the Sooners. They sacked McCarron seven times, intercepted two of his passes and produced four turnovers.
Alabama was bigger, but OU was better. At least on this night. And now the future seems brighter than the past.
A Sooner program that has won just one outright Big 12 title in the last five years and was playing in just its second BCS bowl during that time, announced its return to national contention.
Oh, Bob Stoops isn't buying that theory.
“We weren't coming in on a load of wood,” Stoops said. “We've won some games around here. That's how we feel. Everyone else, we weren't that concerned about.”
But even his quarterback knew what had happened.
“To come down here and show the Sooners are back, it's something special,” Knight said.
Indeed it was. OU popped Alabama in the first half, with Knight's pinpoint passing — confident, sharp, accurate — keeping the Tide off balance.
And after a rugged third quarter, the Sooners found their step in the fourth quarter.
Someone said it was a return of Sooner Magic, but no. Nothing magical about this. OU just made the plays.
In the fourth quarter, the Sooners unveiled two monster drives. A 76-yard, eight-play drive that led to that Knight-to-Shepard TD pass, during which the Sooners survived a first-and-30.
And with 6:22 left in the game, clinging to a 38-31 lead, OU took over and kept the ball for 5 1/2 minutes, making four first downs, with a variety of runs and throws.
The Sooners ran 11 plays on that drive. Alabama ran 10 plays in the entire fourth quarter.
By then, there was no chanting of “SEC! SEC!” from the Alabama faithful.
It had started that maddening chant barely five minutes into the game, after a Bama interception. But from then on, OU put the Tide on the run.
Stoops had stepped out on some ice last summer, saying the SEC depth was overhyped. He caught a lot of flak for it.
But Thursday night, his team did one better. It pulled the veil not from the SEC's soft middle, but from its epic program.
“I have the utmost respect for Alabama,” Stoops said. But “I think this shows we can play with anybody. So enough of that.”
Enough of that indeed. This night was not about upstaging the SEC. This was about putting Oklahoma football back on center stage.