ARLINGTON, Texas — Nebraska could have found a better way to say goodbye to the Big 12 on Saturday night.
It could have taken its 17-0 lead, put a cleat on Oklahoma’s throat and ran off to the Big Ten with a big old smirk on its face.
It could have, even with its lead trimmed to 20-17, squeezed something — anything — out of eight second-half offensive possessions at Cowboys Stadium.
And it could have simply given Alex Henery one more chance to work his kicking magic instead of fumbling the football and taking sacks at some of the worst possible times.
The Huskers instead walked away with heads hung, losing 23-20 to the Sooners in a Big 12 championship game that they might remember for all the wrong reasons.
“We just did too many things out there to overcome it and beat a good football team, ” NU coach Bo Pelini said.
There will be no cries of Big 12 officiating “conspiracies” at work by NU fans. There won’t even be tales of “Sooner Magic” breaking the Huskers’ hearts in the second half before a crowd of 78,810.
No. 13 Nebraska (10-3) did this one to itself as Oklahoma barely could scratch together six second-half points to claim its seventh Big 12 title in the final year of the championship game as NU and Colorado leave it to be a 10-team league.
Four turnovers (three fumbles, one interception) and seven sacks did the most damage. And it spoiled an inspired effort by the Husker defense, not totally unlike a year ago when NU lost 13-12 to Texas in the same game in the same building.
The last of the turnovers — a fumble by I-back Rex Burkhead out of the Wildcat formation in the fourth quarter — led to Nos. 9 and 10 OU (11-2) getting its winning points on a 27-yard field goal by Jimmy Stevens with 8:28 left in the game.
“It’s pretty obvious what the level of disappointment is,” Pelini said. “We came in here to win the Big 12 championship. We didn’t get it done. The kids are hurting.”
The Huskers raced to their 17-0 lead behind a 66-yard run by Roy Helu, a 53-yard field goal by Henery and a 5-yard pass from Burkhead to Kyler Reed. They followed with a Taylor Martinez interception in the end zone and a Helu fumble, however, before a 42-yard field goal by Henery sent them to halftime ahead 20-17.
NU started its first four possessions of the second half on its 19, 20, 15 and 20 — and punted all four times. Stevens’ kick then followed Burkhead’s fumble, recovered by Travis Lewis at the Sooners’ 35.
Nebraska was about to run a fake punt on its next possession but OU was granted a timeout just as the Huskers snapped the football. They kicked with 7:31 left and waited to get it back.
NU tried again, reaching third-and-8 at the Sooners’ 39. With Henery at the ready, Martinez held the football too long and was dropped for an 11-yard sack by defensive end Frank Alexander.
“We thought we were in range, that’s the shame of it,” Pelini said. “We can’t take a sack in that situation.”
One last failed possession and the Huskers were through — both for Saturday night and the Big 12. Pelini crossed midfield and shook hands and gave a hug to old friend and OU coach Bob Stoops.
“It was really exciting to see the maturity of us, being down 17-0 and no one being rattled and just keep working it,” Stoops said. “Keep playing football. It’s a long night. So nothing is decided.”
It’ll be a long few weeks for Nebraska, which will learn its bowl assignment Sunday night. With its three losses coming by 7, 3 and 3 points, it was closer to a BCS bowl and special season than it has been since 2001.
Instead, the Sooners get the final say in the NU-OU rivalry that now has no immediate future.
“Everybody knows how big of a rivalry it’s been throughout the years and years with these storied programs,” OU safety Jonathan Nelson said. “To come up with this big win, in the last time and game, it’s just amazing.”
|Yards per carry||2.9||3.4|
Nebraska is 38-45 all-time against Oklahoma.
|Western Kentucky||Sept. 4|
|South Dakota State||Sept. 25|
|Kansas State||Oct. 7|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 20|
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