Oklahoma withstands late Iowa State comeback, wins sixth straight Big 12 title in dramatic fashion

Oklahoma’s Big 12 championship streak is alive and well.

The No. 10 Sooners’ conference title streak now sits at six thanks to a 27-21 win over No. 6 Iowa State on Saturday in Arlington, Texas. It was an impressive performance from the Sooners, who jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead and held on for dear life when the resilient Cyclones made a valiant comeback attempt in the second half.

A few months ago, the Sooners were reeling. They lost their first two Big 12 games, including a road loss to Iowa State. It was the first time OU had lost back-to-back regular season games since 1999. All of a sudden, the Big 12 appeared to be up for grabs.

But in the end, the conference still belonged to Oklahoma. The Sooners reeled off six consecutive wins to close out the regular season, and extended that streak to seven by knocking off an Iowa State team in the midst of a historic season.

Iowa State hadn’t won a conference title since 1912. Yes, 1912. Yet, even after trailing 24-7 at halftime, the Cyclones had a chance in the game’s final minutes. Trailing 27-21 with 2:01 to play, Iowa State drove into Oklahoma territory with a chance to win. But on third-and-11 from the OU 34 with just over a minute to go, ISU quarterback Brock Purdy threw an interception that spelled the end of the Cyclones’ comeback effort.

It was the play that sealed another conference championship for the Sooners.

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) throws against Iowa State during the first half of the the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) throws against Iowa State during the first half of the the Big 12 Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

OU jumps out to big halftime lead

Oklahoma set the tone early, marching right down the field and scoring on its first drive to open up a 7-0 lead. And after a play where a near-interception from Spencer Rattler bounced off two ISU defenders, Rattler connected on a 45-yard touchdown with Marvin Mims on the first play of the second quarter to make it 14-0.

All the while, the Oklahoma defense was swarming ISU’s heralded duo of Purdy and running back Breece Hall. Hall leads the nation in rushing, but was largely bottled up on Saturday. He finished the game with just 79 yards on 23 carries while Purdy threw for 322 yards, a touchdown and three costly interceptions.

Purdy’s first interception came in the end zone when ISU trailed 17-0 late in the first half. His second interception came early in the second half — again in Oklahoma territory, but this time with his team down 24-7. His third ended the Big 12 title dreams for the Cyclones.

Iowa State comes back, but OU defense holds on

Iowa State’s defense put the clamps on OU in the second half while the offense tried to chip away at the lead. Oklahoma’s defense has been much maligned in the Lincoln Riley era, but this group has been different. The Sooners were especially relentless in the trenches on Saturday.

Purdy was under constant pressure while Hall had very little room to operate between the tackles. Still, the Cyclones kept chipping away. In the fourth quarter, Purdy made several big-time throws under duress and Hall finished off a 12-play, 87-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run to cut Oklahoma’s lead to 24-21 with 5:15 to play.

All of the momentum was on Iowa State’s side and the Cyclones needed to force another punt. The previous five Oklahoma possessions ended with punts. But when it counted, Rattler, with some help from running back Rhamondre Stevenson and his group of receivers, led his team right down the field for an important field goal, making it 27-21 with 2:01 to play.

That set the stage for Iowa State to have a chance to win the game.

The Cyclones advanced into Oklahoma territory and tensions were high. But on a third-down play, Purdy took a big hit and the ball popped up in the air as he attempted to throw downfield. The pass was intercepted by Tre Brown inside the 10-yard line with 1:05 to go.

From there, Oklahoma ran out the clock to finally seal the win.

What’s next for Oklahoma, Iowa State?

With the Big 12 title in the books, Oklahoma improved to 8-2 and has earned a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. That bowl game will likely be the Cotton Bowl, meaning the Sooners will return to AT&T Stadium for their postseason game. That will end OU’s three-year CFP streak, but it’s still a nice consolation for a team that started the year 1-2.

Iowa State’s bowl picture is a bit trickier. The Cyclones (8-3) were No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings entering Saturday. There’s a chance — if they stay ahead of a team like No. 7 Florida, who will play No. 1 Alabama in the SEC title game on Saturday night — that the Cyclones earn an at-large spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. The Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl are possibilities.

But if the Cyclones make a tumble in the rankings, the next Big 12-affiliated bowl game would be the Alamo Bowl.

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