NORMAN — Oklahoma wrapped up its 2013 football season with a 45-31 upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last week, and finished ranked No. 6 in the nation in both major polls.
Here’s a look at Oklahoma’s top 13 moments in the 2013 college football season:
13. Brennan Clay’s late touchdown vs. TCU: The Sooners had played dominating defense in the first half and appeared to have this game under control, but the Horned Frogs fought back in the second half and were threatening late in the fourth quarter. With 4:49 remaining, Clay took a handoff from Blake Bell, slipped through the TCU defensive front, cut back to his right and went untouched for a 76-yard touchdown — his career-long — that helped seal the OU victory. His touchdown was especially important considering a few minutes later, TCU found the end zone to pull within 3 points of the Sooners.
12. Kass Everett’s sack, forced fumble vs. West Virginia: With the Sooners leading 10-7 and West Virginia driving down the field, Everett came on a blitz, sacked quarterback Paul Millard and forced a fumble. The turnover didn’t result in any OU points, but the moment was special for Everett. The senior joined OU as a junior-college transfer but never played as much as he wanted to. A photograph of Everett’s sack appeared on the cover of the next day’s Oklahoman sports section, and I wrote about why that newspaper was so important to him. You can read that story here.
11. Zack Sanchez touchdown at Kansas State: Oklahoma had taken a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter when Sanchez, a redshirt freshman cornerback, picked off KSU’s Jake Waters and returned it 74 yards for what was essentially a game-clinching touchdown. It was the first interception of his career. Sanchez added another one in the Sugar Bowl, when he intercepted Alabama’s AJ McCarron.
10. Trevor Knight’s first run: On the Sooners’ first offensive possession of the season, they faced a third-and-10 at their own 25-yard line. Knight dropped back to pass, didn’t see anything open and weaved through the Louisiana-Monroe defense for a 24-yard gain. The drive didn’t result in any points, but the play gave OU fans a quick, early glimpse of his tremendous athleticism and potential.
9. Jalen Saunders’ Bedlam punt return: Oklahoma trailed 7-0 and hadn’t managed much at all on offense late in the first quarter, when Saunders caught a punt, slipped between a couple would-be tacklers and found daylight, returning the punt 64 yards for a touchdown. It was his second punt-return score of the season, and his second straight Bedlam with a key score on a punt return.
8. Lacoltan Bester’s TD pass at Kansas: The Sooners were trailing 13-8 at lowly Kansas late in the first half when Blake Bell handed off to Brennan Clay, who flipped the ball back to receiver Lacoltan Bester. Bester, a former junior-college quarterback, dropped back to pass and threw a perfect strike to a wide-open Sterling Shepard for a 49-yard touchdown. Until Trevor Knight’s Sugar Bowl heroics, it might’ve been the most beautiful throw by any Sooner all season.
7. Knight to Bester Sugar Bowl TD: Alabama took its opening drive right down the field and scored to take a quick 7-0 lead, and then the Crimson Tide intercepted OU’s Trevor Knight on the Sooners’ ensuing drive. But OU safety Gabe Lynn countered with his own interception a play later, giving the Sooners the ball at the Bama 45-yard line. Knight dropped back on first down, hit Bester near the Alabama sideline, and the senior wideout dove into the end zone for a tying touchdown with 9:43 left in the first quarter. The play sent a clear message that Oklahoma was more than capable of hanging with the Crimson Tide.
6. Corey Nelson’s touchdown at Notre Dame: On only the third offensive snap of the game, linebacker Eric Striker hit Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees, forcing an errant throw that landed right in senior linebacker Corey Nelson’s hands. Nelson returned the interception 24 yards for a touchdown, giving OU a 7-0 lead less than 50 seconds into the game. The Sooners would go on to win 35-21.
5. Final Bedlam touchdown: Oklahoma had taken the lead with only seconds remaining in regulation, and the Cowboys hoped to pull a miracle by lateraling the ball around the field. Running back Desmond Roland misfired when he threw back toward Clint Chelf, and Eric Striker recovered the ball and scored as time expired.
4. Kansas State postgame locker room celebration: With the Sooners’ 41-31 win at Kansas State on Nov. 23, coach Bob Stoops became the program’s all-time winningest coach, surpassing the legendary Barry Switzer. OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione presented Stoops with a special game ball in the locker room after the game, and several OU players picked their coach up during the celebration. Very cool moment.
3. Bell-to-Saunders to win Bedlam: The Sooners trailed 24-20 with only 24 seconds on the clock when Blake Bell — the third-string quarterback entering the game — threw a perfect pass in the corner of the end zone to Jalen Saunders, who caught the game-winning touchdown. The play capped an impressive, last-minute drive and, interestingly, ended up being Oklahoma’s only offensive touchdown of the entire game.
2. Bedlam fake field goal: Oklahoma trailed 17-10 and appeared to settle for a field goal with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter. But holder Grant Bothun received the snap, stood up, rolled to his left and tossed the ball to kicker Michael Hunnicutt, who scored the tying touchdown. Hunnicutt sustained a brutal hit from OSU’s Caleb Lavey, but only after he’d already reached the end zone.
1. Final Sugar Bowl touchdown: Alabama took over possession trailing 38-31 with less than a minute to go, and on first down, Striker blitzed and forced an AJ McCarron fumble that was recovered by Geneo Grissom and returned eight yards for a touchdown. The play put one final stamp on Oklahoma’s stunning, convincing victory over Alabama.