FORT WORTH, Texas — For a third straight Saturday, Oklahoma players stood in the red zone, awaiting a single, game defining play.
Only this time, the 11 Sooners on the field had their backs to the end zone.
With 25 seconds remaining, TCU receiver Josh Boyce couldn't make a fourth-down touchdown catch between Julian Wilson and Tony Jefferson, and Oklahoma escaped Amon G. Carter Stadium with a 24-17 win.
“The clock was ticking, and we knew the game was all in our hands,” said senior cornerback Demontre Hurst. “We just buckled down and really made plays when we needed to.”
With the victory, Oklahoma (10-2, 8-1 Big 12) claimed at least a share of the Big 12 Conference championship and is all but guaranteed a coveted BCS bowl berth.
The Sooners stayed alive in the hunt for both achievements by winning offensive shoot-outs in back-to-back weeks — 50-49 at West Virginia on Nov. 17, and 51-48 in overtime over Oklahoma State last weekend.
In each of those victories, Oklahoma's offense found ways to outscore its opponent and bail out its defense, which allowed the Mountaineers and Cowboys to put up historically shocking numbers.
“These last couple weeks, offense has been, for the most part, bailing us out,” said senior defensive end R.J. Washington. “We felt like we needed to pull our own weight. For the defense to come up with a last-second stop — last play of the game is on us — I wouldn't have it any other way.”
After OU kicker Michael Hunnicutt's 42-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left with 2:49 remaining, the Horned Frogs picked up a first down, then suddenly advanced to the OU 12 when quarterback Trevone Boykin found Cam White on a 46-yard pass.
On first down, Jefferson stuffed TCU's B.J. Catalon for no gain.
On second down, Catalon swung from the backfield and extended his right arm toward Boykin's slightly overthrown pass, bobbling the ball before hauling it in for no gain.
On third down, Boykin kept the ball and sprinted into the end zone for what would've been the tying score, but Blaize Foltz's hold negated the touchdown and sent TCU back 10 yards.
On the repeated third down, Boykin hit Boyce with a 7-yard completion that set up the deciding fourth down — Oklahoma's third in three weeks.
At West Virginia, Landry Jones smoothly called an audible and hit Kenny Stills for a game winning touchdown with 24 seconds left.
In Bedlam, Blake Bell rumbled into the end zone to tie the score with 4 seconds left in regulation and force overtime.
Saturday in Fort Worth, though, it was the much-maligned defense — which had allowed 97 points in consecutive weeks — that came through in the clutch.
“The play was big,” Jefferson said. “It meant I had another Big 12 championship. I was on the team in 2010, and I was excited to make the fans proud and see all the coaches and players excited. There's no better feeling.”
Now, the Sooners must wait for the result from Kansas State's regular-season finale against Texas to find out if the Big 12 title will be theirs outright or shared with KSU, which beat OU in Norman in September.
The Wildcats would earn the Big 12's automatic berth to a BCS bowl game because of their head-to-head win, but even in that scenario, Oklahoma is surely BCS-bound — heading either to the Sugar Bowl to face a likely tilt with No. 4 Florida, or the Fiesta Bowl, probably against No. 5 Oregon.
“It's kind of fitting that you win as a team,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “The last two weeks, the offense has been on the field at the end of the game to win it. This time, it was the defense on the field to get a four downs and out to win the game.
“I would have much preferred not to give up a big pass ahead of that. But that's how we've been doing things, making things exciting, I guess.”