TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Demons begone.
Road demons. Fourth-quarter demons. Landry Jones demons. No. 1 ranking demons. Fire-breathing opponents and their psychotic fan demons.
All vanquished by the Oklahoma Sooners in the final nine minutes Saturday night in the shadow of the Florida capital. No. 1-ranked OU showed it deserved such status with a 23-13 gut-check of fifth-ranked Florida State.
When the Seminoles, seeking to return to college football's inner sanctum for the first time in a decade, scored 10 points to forge a 13-13, Bob Stoops sensed what we all knew.
Florida State smelled blood. Just like Missouri smelled blood last October, when it knocked OU from its No. 1 perch. Just like Texas A&M smelled blood last November, when it brow-beat the Sooners and made them question their toughness.
Those Sooners wilted under the pressure. These Sooners flourished. Landry Jones directed a season-defining touchdown drive, Javon Harris capped a sensational night of defense with a big interception and OU served notice that it is national-championship caliber.
“Probably as good a character in the fourth (quarter) that we have had since maybe the 2000 years down at A&M,” Stoops said. “It's just pleasing to win that way.”
A perfect win for Stoops, and not just because his brother Mark's Florida State defense shined even in defeat. No more questions about OU and Landry Jones on the road. What questions that weren't answered in Stillwater last Thanksgiving weekend were answered Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“It's a statement,” said OU safety Tony Jefferson, as good a pick as any for the best player on the field. “We were determined not to lose it.”
After the Seminoles tied it 13-13, “we gotta swallow our teeth and we put our feet on the ground and kept playing,” Jefferson said.
Thanks to Jefferson and Tom Wort and Javon Harris and Ronnell Lewis and Travis Lewis and, well, we can name stout-hearted Sooners well into the night, OU's defense made this game reminiscent of the OU-FSU Orange Bowl of 11 years ago. That one finished 13-2, and this one seemed headed for a 13-3 finish.
Then backup quarterback Clint Trickett, inserted for banged-up E.J. Manuel, found a little magic and led the Seminoles to 10 straight points.
But the fourth quarter, which has been so disastrous for Sooners in big games in recent years, proved to be OU's time.
And Stoops, loath to compare much of anything, admitted this victory ranks right up there with any in his 13 years.
“What an environment,” Stoops said. “That's what you want. It was awesome.”
Jones, who was battered by Mark Stoops' pass rushers all night, proved his toughness, with solid throws in the fourth quarter under pressure.
“We're a tough team,” Jones said, which frankly has not been true all the time in recent years but is true in 2011. “We've grown a lot since last year.”
This game was like Bedlam 2010, in that it was there for the losing and OU instead persevered. But unlike Bedlam, the Sooners had no great treasure chest of confidence to use. They had to grown their own on this one.
“This is why we came to Oklahoma,” said center Ben Habern. “No. 1 vs. No. 5. Huge game. The crowd was into it. It was huge for us to fight through this game.”
The best sign of all – OU won this game with line of scrimmage dominance in the fourth quarter. The Sooners had it early in the game, lost it somewhere in the middle and found it just in time.
OU's line gave Jones enough time to make season-making throws to Ryan Broyles (on 3rd-and-12) and Kenny Stills (37-yard touchdown) on consecutive plays. Then OU's defensive front harried Trickett into a poor throw, tipped by Ronnell Lewis and speared by Harris. And finally back came the O-line to run off two first downs and set up Jimmy Stevens' clinching field goal.
“Don't give up, keep playing,” said Harris, who lived by the advice, considering he lost his starting job to Jefferson, who was moved back to safety upon Travis Lewis' return. “There's four quarters of football.”
And Saturday night, that fourth quarter belonged to the nation's No. 1 team.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.