Second-ranked Oklahoma fell way short on its drive to the national championship tonight in the Orange Bowl, losing by 28-17 to No. 4 Washington in a game that was marked with a bizarre turn of events.
The Sooners (9-2-1), battling the Huskies before 56,294 on a field littered with confetti and strips of gold celluloid, may have lost their dream for the national championship the very moment a covered wagon and team of ponies raced across the field in the early moments of the third quarter.
It was the Sooner Schooner, racing unrestrained after an apparent 22-yard field goal by Tim Lashar that would have broken a 14-14 deadlock and put Oklahoma ahead.
Instead, the Sooners were penalized five yards for illegal procedure on the field goal, and 15 more as a result of the ridiculous wagon romp. Pushed way back, Lashar's 42-yard try was blocked by Tim Peoples.
That grim conclusion to the Sooners' premature celebration played a significant role in the outcome of the game. As national television viewers giggled, the momentum shifted from the Sooners to the 11-1 Huskies, and the game may well have been lost. Neither team scored in the third quarter.
Although Lashar made a 35-yard field goal with 4:04 left in the final period to put the Sooners ahead, 17-14, Washington rallied and scored touchdowns on its next two possessions -- on a 12-yard pass from back-up quarterback Hugh Millen to Mark Pattison at 5:42, and a six-yard burst through the middle by Rick Fenney at 4:48.
Washington Coach Don James said, "We're No. 1. We'll get my vote. I thought all along we might win one poll and lose the other to BYU. It's tough to beat an Oklahoma team any time. We did it and we should be recognized for our accomplishment."
Coach Barry Switzer of Oklahoma was in full agreement. "I'll vote for them without a doubt," he said. "They're the best team in the country, and the best team we've played all year."
LaVell Edwards, the coach at top-ranked Brigham Young, was contacted immediately after the game. He said, "I watched the game in its entirety, but I quit trying to figure out what it meant and trying to get involved with all the what-ifs. I just don't know what it means. I won't know until tomorrow . . .
"The point that I tried to make all along was that we were No. 1 going into the (Holiday) bowl game and we won the bowl game, so we should remain No. 1. That's why I didn't put that much stock in this (Orange Bowl) game."
The Associated Press will announce the national champion at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Brigham Young, at 13-0, is the only unbeaten major college team.
For Washington, running back Jacque Robinson gained 135 yards on 28 carries, shattering the heart of a defense that had given up 68.8-yards per game on the ground, the best in the country.
Oklahoma quarterback Danny Bradley completed only six of 21 passing attempts for 124 yards. He led a sporadic wishbone offense that committed five turnovers, one an interception from his own hand that proved deadly for the Sooners.
It happened after Buster Rhymes fumbled a kickoff out of bounds at the Oklahoma two, leaving the Sooners with what seemed like miles and miles of wide open pasture to explore. On the next play, Bradley dropped back to pass, but the throw was tipped by all-America defensive tackle Ron Holmes and intercepted by linebacker Joe Kelly on the 10. He stumbled and returned it to the seven.
On second and goal, Fenney broke through the line and scored standing up. With Jeff Jaeger's extra point, it was 28-17, Washington.
On its first possession, Oklahoma used a 38-yard punt return by Rhymes to push deep into Huskies' territory. After failing to establish a ground game, Bradley dropped back to pass on third and six. But strong safety Jim Rodgers blitzed and sacked him for a 20-yard loss.
To add to the Sooners' early misery, Mike Winchester fumbled the punt snap, and linebacker Joe Kelly, charging from the short side of the field, wrestled him down on the Washington 45.
That Oklahoma miscue set up a quick score for the Huskies. Quarterback Paul Sicuro pitched left to I-back Robinson for 13 yards, then passed 29 yards to receiver Danny Greene for the touchdown. The Sooners' defensive unit had taken great pride in going six consecutive games without giving up a touchdown in the first quarter, but Greene broke the perimeter zone coverage and found open field behind cornerback Tony Rayburn.
Greene took in the pass with 11:52 on the clock, and Jaeger kicked the extra point to make it 7-0, Washington.
That two-play, 41-yard drive was executed with relative ease, as was Washington's next, which went 72 yards in 12 plays and came on its ensuing possession. One could not help but wonder if the Sooners, who entered this game a one-touchdown favorite, had been overcome with the same dog day malaise that struck them in the 1978 Orange Bowl, a game they lost, 31-6.
The second score belonged to Robinson, who plowed off left guard to glory with 4:24 left in the first period. Two big hitting plays -- a 21-yard pass from Sicuro to Greene, and a 13-yard counter trap with Robinson cutting behind the Sooners' penetration -- set up the touchdown. Jaeger was good on the point-after kick, and the Huskies widened the margin, 14-0.
Early on, Oklahoma, which had spent the last four weeks hoping to win this game in a big-bang manner and swing the votes of the national pollsters its way, seemed overwhelmed by the grave importance of the task at hand. Divine intervention may have played a part in linebacker Brian Bosworth's deflection of Sicuro's pass that fell into the outstretched arms of cornerback Jim Rockford, who made his second interception of the first half.
The turnover gave the Sooners the ball on the Washington 33. Halfback Jerome Ledbetter ran up the middle on three consecutive plays that put the ball on the Huskies' 15-yard line. Steve Sewell hit off tackle for 12 yards to get even closer before Bradley finally found the end zone with 9:47 to go in the half. The keeper off center covered mere inches, but with Lashar's extra point, closed the gap to 14-7.
Washington's early momentum waned at the midway point of the second period. The Sooners' defense, led by all-America nose guard Tony Casillas, stiffened and forced short drives to end in punts, and Bradley, gaining strength running the wishbone, was more effective working the Washington defensive corners off the option.
There were only eight seconds on the clock when Jaeger attempted a 61-yard field goal kick that fell a whole cow pasture short. James apparently preferred the field goal try to a punt, but it proved a poor choice for Washington.
Oklahoma was penalized five yards for delaying the game, then hunkered down at its 39. Bradley, who had not yet completed a pass, dumped off a short one to receiver Derrick Shepard. The clock ran out as Shepard broke between Steve Holzgraf and Vestee Jackson for 61 yards and the touchdown, ending the first half. Lashar added the extra point, tying the score at 14, and leaving the Huskies stunned.
At the outset of the third quarter, the Sooners' first crack at moving ahead of Washington took them 10 yards behind their initial point of takeoff. When Oklahoma kicked the ball away, their defense sagged at the heart as Robinson drummed it like thunder.
On one fabulous romp, Robinson took a pitch from Sicuro and highstepped past four defenders to the Oklahoma 10. All he did was make the Sooners' front wall look silly.
But the Huskies' first drive of the half ended in ignominy, when Sicuro threw straight into the double coverage of Greene in the end zone. Oklahoma cornerback Sonny Brown picked it off at the seven.
The Sooners' had moved to midfield when Rodgers stripped the ball from Spencer Tillman and recovered the dribble at the Oklahoma 46. The Huskies' tried Robinson up the middle twice, but gained little, and punted away their good field position.
The next time Washington was looking for the quick score to break the deadlock, Sicuro attempted to run the option off the left corner but fumbled. Casillas, working down the line from the backside, recovered for the Sooners at the Washington 46.
Bradley went immediately to the air, passing 30 yards to Steve Sewell directly in front of the Sooners' bench. Two plays later, Bradley threw to Shepard slanting across the middle. It went 13 yards, and a three-yard pass on a quick-out to halfback Patrick Collins put the ball on the Washington six.
Bradley ran a keeper off the option, but could manage only two yards. Lashar was called on to kick a 22-yard field goal, but an illegal procedure penalty and the Sooner Schooner intervened.