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Original Issue

A tie that felt like a triumph

After being down and nearly out, Texas got a draw with Oklahoma

Texas coach Fred Akers gathered his Longhorns in their locker room at the Cotton Bowl last Saturday afternoon and tried to kick their emotional level up another notch as they prepared to face archrival Oklahoma. "You'll take whatever is dealt and play it better than them," said Akers. "Our determination will make the difference. If you see you like I see you, you are the most determined bunch of people in the country. They write books about people like you. You have already given more than any team I've ever been associated with. But today is one of those days when I'm going to ask you for an extra measure from yourself. Can I count on you, Gene, for one percent more today than you've ever given before?"

"Yes, sir."

"John, one percent more from you?"

"Yes, sir."

And so it went around the room; not a "no, sir" was uttered. When Akers finished, he directed the players' attention to the blackboard, where he'd scrawled ATTACK. At which time the Longhorns all but ignored the doors and ran through the walls to get out onto the field.

It was a rainy, dank day in Dallas, and when the slipping and sliding and splashing was all over, three hours and eight minutes later, the score was tied 15-15, leaving both teams still undefeated (the Horns are 3-0-1; the Sooners are 4-0-1) but dissatisfied.

Still, there was no doubt in any logical mind that Oklahoma hadn't tied Texas, but that Texas had—well, almost triumphantly—tied Oklahoma. That realization came shortly after there had been no doubt in any logical mind that the Sooners had won the game, for they'd had a 15-10 lead with less than three minutes left.

The deciding factor was the Longhorns' determination, just as Akers had promised it would be. Although no Sooner fan wants to hear it, the difference was that Texas, desperately trying to hold on to its No. 1 ranking in both wire service polls and its No. 2 SI rating, appeared to want the game more. Certainly Oklahoma is enormously improved in comparison with the dissension-ridden team of 1983 that finished an unhappy 8-4 for the second year in a row. This season's Sooners are more disciplined and are sounder fundamentally. Perhaps most important, under the direction of their new offensive coordinator, Mack Brown, they've returned to a wishbone-based offense, and it offers some flair and a lot of potential.

But Oklahoma and its coach, Barry Switzer, do themselves a disservice when, as they did Saturday, they complain bitterly about officiating. Good teams, and the Sooners may well be far better than good, don't alibi. "We got screwed, man," moaned Switzer after he had berated the officials in the tunnel to the dressing room. Could be, of course. There were a number of questionable calls, affecting both teams, but that's the case in a lot of games.

In the OU locker room afterward, Switzer said, "We were the best team and we lost." Across the way, Akers said, "We had the best football team." The fact is, Switzer probably was closer to the truth—if you ignore the determination factor, which you can't.

The stage for Saturday's second-half hysteria was set in the first 30 minutes, when Texas went up 10-0 on a 25-yard Todd Dodge-to-Bill Boy Bryant pass—Bryant ran a simple out-and-up pattern and was left all alone by the Sooner deep back—and a 40-yard Jeff Ward field goal. The touchdown came after Oklahoma punter Mike Winchester let the snap slide through his hands. Given the soggy conditions, the Longhorns' halftime lead looked enormous.

But not to the Sooners. In a stunning span of six minutes, 50 seconds in the third quarter, Oklahoma flickered with a spark it hasn't shown since the glory days of the '70s. It all started when Texas tailback Terry Orr was crushed by Sooner linebacker Brian Bosworth. Orr fumbled, and strong safety Keith Stanberry recovered on the Texas six. Bosworth had spent the week spouting off about how much he hates Akers, Texas, Burnt Orange and Austin. All of his published remarks ended up in Austin, posted for the Longhorns to read and ponder. Switzer now calls Bosworth, a freshman from Dallas, Mr. Bulletin Board.

Two plays after Orr's fumble, right halfback Steve Sewell, a senior whom Oklahoma was lukewarm about recruiting out of San Francisco and who made a niche for himself because he not only knew how to block but also would, carried five yards for a touchdown.

A minute and a half later, the Longhorns had to swallow a safety when the snap by their deep snapper, Terry Steelhammer, sailed, over the head of punter John Teltschik. Suddenly it was Texas 10, Oklahoma 9, and the Sooners were gassed up. Upon receiving the free kick after the safety, Oklahoma powered down the field in 10 plays, culminating in Sewell's catching a 24-yard pass from quarterback Danny Bradley and then on the next play scooting outside for 12 yards and a TD. That made it 15-10, Oklahoma. The Sooners went for the two-point conversion but failed.

The band played Boomer Sooner with new vigor, and Oklahoma seemed on its way to a big-game win after three seasons in which its record in the biggies had been 2-9.

But with 5:59 left, Dodge passed 20 yards to tight end William Harris. On the next play, third-team tailback Kevin Nelson, a freshman, took off on a sweep to the left. He bounced off a would-be tackier and kept right on sloshing up the left sideline 58 yards to the Sooner two. "I kept thinking, I just want to help the team,' " said Nelson later.

But now the Oklahoma defense rose to the occasion, displaying an attacking style rather than the sit-back-and-be-cool-because-we're-better-than-you brand it has favored in recent years. Orr was held to just one yard by noseguard Tony Casillas; Orr was stopped by Stan-berry; Orr was tackled by Casillas, with Bosworth in support; Nelson tried to sweep wide right and slipped behind the line for a two-yard loss. The Sooners had stopped the drive and, seemingly, had broken Texas's spirit.

With the Sooners unable to move the ball for a first down after taking over on their own three, Switzer ordered his team to take a safety. The decision was defensible, because Winchester not only had dropped one snap but also had shanked two punts. Worried that there might be another punting fiasco, Switzer, as he explained later, "didn't want to run the risk of giving them a cheap touchdown. I felt if they were good enough to take the ball and drive it the length of the field when they hadn't done it all day, then they deserved to win." Indeed, for the day the Longhorns would get only 96 yards rushing and would convert only two of 14 third-down situations.

Texas took over on its own 44 with 2:04 left, trailing 15-12. On third-and-seven, pass interference was called at the OU 41 on Stanberry, who didn't like that one bit; the ball was "uncatchable," he fumed. Soon, however, Dodge faced a third-and-10. He passed to Orr for eight yards, but the Sooners were offside on the play, and Texas took the penalty. Third-and-five at the 36. Dodge then completed two of his next three passes—he was only 6 for 24 for the day—one to Harris for 15 yards, the other to Bryant for 11 down to the 10-yard line.

An illegal motion penalty put the ball on the 15 with 10 seconds left. Now came the game's most controversial play. On a pass to Bryant the ball was tipped by cornerback Andre Johnson, and Stanberry appeared to have intercepted it. But it was ruled simply an incomplete pass. This time, the Sooners did some big league complaining. As well they might have: Television replays showed that Stanberry caught the ball inbounds and that he may well have had control of it inbounds, too.

On the next play, Rob Moerschell coolly handled a high snap and placed it, and Ward tied the game with a strong, true kick as time ran out.

Switzer raced off the field, pausing only to give the officials the rough side of his tongue. The Sooner players hollered insults at the Longhorns for choosing a field goal and a tie, rather than trying one more pass for the win. Had the situation been reversed, Switzer would almost surely have done the same. Anyone watching the Texas offense sputter and cough all day had to figure its chances of making 15 yards on a single play on an almost submerged field were nonexistent.

The Longhorns weren't all that thrilled with the draw, either, and more than one chair got booted over as they filed into the dressing room. But Akers, towel over his left shoulder and cap pushed back, leaped up on a table and shouted, "Man, the dad-blamed conditions were miserable. But you came back, and the fact is, we're still undefeated. Those people thought they had themselves a big, big upset. But you guys are getting ready to become deadly. We're a fighting bunch of folks. I know it was a tie, and we wanted to win. But under the circumstances, aren't you glad you tied?" Suddenly, everyone felt better.

They'll feel a whole lot better if they can come up with a better running game. Against OU it was unacceptable. Even on a wet field, 96 yards rushing isn't worthy of a national champ. Of course, if the Longhorns keep getting 96 yards rushing, they won't be national champs.

But the defense, despite yielding more yards per game this season (283.8) than a typical Texas unit, is solid. Defensive coordinator David McWilliams is doing a masterful job despite a big talent drain after last season—of 18 Longhorns drafted by the pros last spring, eight were defensive starters. Happily for Texas, while the offense works to get better and the defense matures, Ward and punter Teltschik, who kicked eight times against Oklahoma for an average of 46.1 yards, are keeping the Longhorns out of trouble.

At Oklahoma the situation is more complex. Switzer's record against Texas over the last five years is 1-3-1. Not good. While both coaches like to say their conference games are much more important, the truth is that this one is the biggest of the year for both schools, largely because it has such an impact on recruits. A defeat one year may result in a team of lower quality three or four years down the road.

And after too many years when both the academic and athletic emphasis at Norman was lackadaisical under Switzer, he's again toeing the line. Not having his contract extended last year by the regents, as had been routinely done, may have helped motivate him. Whatever the reason, Switzer is more subdued and far more diligent. Players are showing up on time for meetings and showing up, period, for classes. That may not seem like a big deal, but at Oklahoma it is.

Switzer deserves credit for making a serious move to right the Good Ship Sooner, but he needed a victory Saturday to put on some real speed. A disgusted Oklahoma linebacker, Paul Migliazzo, insisted, "By all rights, we won the game. Obviously, they aren't No. 1." Migliazzo may be twice wrong. Better that he and his buddies think in terms of big hearts and total dedication. For inspiration, they could look to the Longhorns.



Texas's tough defense, here putting the stop on Tillman (34), must hold on until the Longhorns get their running offense organized.



After Stanberry's apparent interception (left) was ruled no catch, Moerschell deftly brought a high snap down for Ward's tying kick.



Oklahoma's late fourth-quarter goal-line stand was led by Casillas (92) and Bosworth (44)...



...which prompted Mr. Bulletin Board to embrace Eric Pope in an early celebration.