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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 12

Late Interception Keeps No. 1 Oklahoma Unbeaten

Big 12: Marshall's 41-yard return caps rally from 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit in 35-31 victory over Texas A&M.

November 12, 2000|From Associated Press

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Not even the largest crowd to watch a football game in the state of Texas could deter top-ranked Oklahoma.

Torrance Marshall kept the Sooners' national-championship drive alive Saturday when he scored on a 41-yard interception return in the fourth quarter of a 35-31 victory over No. 23 Texas A&M.

After cruising through its first eight games almost untested, Oklahoma took note of the ear-throbbing din of 87,188 fans, mostly maroon-clad Aggies waving their white 12th-man towels.

"I told our players last week there was a good chance we were going to go down to the final series in this game so just be prepared," Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said. "I think it's good to be in these types of games. You grow and learn from it.

"You just hang in there to the end and find a way to make a play. It shows how much character and poise this team has."

The first interception of Marshall's career came with 7:18 to play, completing a comeback from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit that allowed the Sooners, 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the Big 12 Conference, to remain the only major college team with a perfect record.

"I was just running until somebody tackled me," Marshall said. "I really was just trying to hold onto the ball and not let somebody strip me. That's what it was, it was Sooner magic."

With the crowd roaring from the outset, quarterback Josh Heupel finally got the Sooners going in the fourth quarter.

"We're always confident," Heupel said. "On the sidelines and in the huddle, we kept saying, 'We're going to make a play.' We were just talking about staying in rhythm, staying confident on that last drive. We expected good things to happen."

With Texas A&M leading, 31-21, and Oklahoma having been successful on only two of eight third-down conversions, Heupel made three consecutive third-down plays leading to a two-yard touchdown run by fullback Quentin Griffin with 7:43 remaining.

Moments later, Marshall gave the Sooners the lead when he stepped in front of a pass by Texas A&M's Mark Farris and weaved his way into the end zone to give Oklahoma its first victory at College Station since 1903.

The Aggies (7-3, 5-2) had a final chance to win the game when they took over on the Sooner 44 with 1:33 to play, but Farris' fourth-down pass completion fell five yards short of a first down and Oklahoma took over with 36 seconds remaining. The Sooners ran out the clock and breathed a collective sigh of relief.

"The bottom line is that we had a chance to win the game and didn't get it done," Farris said. "That's why they are the No. 1 team in the country. There was a lot of ups and downs in the game. That is the way big games go. They did a good job of putting pressure on me but our offensive line held and I was only sacked twice."

Oklahoma should remain first in this week's Bowl Championship Series standings, which determine who plays in the BCS national title game at the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.

The Sooners still have games remaining against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State before a probable spot in the Big 12 title game Dec. 2.

After coming so agonizingly close to victory, the Aggies dropped to 0-9 against No. 1-ranked teams. The last time Texas A&M played a No. 1 team was 1977, when it lost to Texas, 57-28.

Texas A&M hadn't even made it close against a top-ranked team until Saturday, losing the eight games by an average score of 41-12.

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