STILLWATER — Bedlam ended much just like it began.
Oh, it’s likely the participants from the first game in 1904 might not have recognized the 2023 version of the game as its future offspring. Saturday’s finale was played in front of a national television audience in front of more than 53,000 fans. The first Bedlam game was played in a city park in Guthrie, and the crowd likely numbered in the hundreds, though the fans were invested.
When the football went careening into a nearby creek, the fans went to the water’s edge to watch the shenanigans.
While the games looked different, the ends were the same. One team went home happy, the other sad.
While most of you cheer crimson or orange, I have no such allegiance, and that made the final moments after Saturday’s game strange. From my perch in the east end zone, I could see Cowboys celebrating at the other end of the field. Players. Coaches. Fans. People were running around, hugging, kissing, smiling.
But closer to me, Sooners were leaving the field in disbelief. Anger. Sadness. They slowly paraded toward the tunnel and off the field.
For every OSU player celebrating, one OU player was hurting.
So it was at the first Bedlam game and every one in this storied rivalry since. That might not matter all that much to many fans, but for me, it’s one of the best and one of the worst parts of Bedlam.
Here are more of the best and worst from Saturday in Stillwater:
Best offensive player: Rashod Owens gets the nod, which is no small thing considering he’s teammates with Ollie Gordon. Heck, it’s no small thing considering Owens was on the same field as Drake Stoops on Saturday. The Sooner receiver was splendid with 12 catches for 134 yards and one touchdown. But Owens gets the nod because, with OU keyed to stop Gordon and OSU’s run game, the Cowboys had to come up with some plays in the passing game. Owens was huge with 10 catches for 136 yards. He didn’t catch everything thrown his way — he was targeted 17 times — but seven of his catches were for first downs. Seven! What a huge impact.
Best defensive player: The winning team should probably have the best defensive player, but the Cowboy defense spread around the big plays. Trey Rucker and Nick Martin led in tackles, but Dylan Smith had an interception and made the tackle on OU’s final play. So, the nod goes instead to OU’s Kip Lewis. The reserve linebacker became a starter with Danny Stutsman sidelined by an injury, and Lewis was masterful. A game-high 15 tackles. Just solid all the way around. The Sooners will be better for whenever Stutsman returns, but Lewis showed last week at Kansas and this week against OSU that he’s ready for a bigger role.
Best play: Give this one to Dylan Smith. On the Sooners’ final drive facing fourth-and-5, everyone had to know they’d look to Stoops. He was spectacular all afternoon. Sure enough, Dillon Gabriel found him, but Smith, a true freshman, kept Stoops behind the first-down marker, and then drove him out of bounds. It was an extremely heads-up play, but for a guy who was playing high school football a year ago? Huge.
Worst play: Brent Venables’ unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. This is the third 15-yard penalty by the Sooner sideline this season. Venables got one during non-conference play when he got in the way of an official, then an undetermined coach got one last week at Kansas for saying something to an official. Saturday, it was Venables again, this time getting the football equivalent of a basketball technical foul. The Sooners have shown a lack of discipline of late, and when their head coach loses his cool, it sends a horrible message.
Best under-the-radar play: Alan Bowman made a touchdown-saving tackle. How many times can you say that about a quarterback? On an ill-advised halfback pass by Gordon — let’s leave the throwing to the quarterbacks, shall we? — Billy Bowman intercepted the ball. He headed down the sideline, and the only thing standing between him and a lengthy pick-six was Bowman. Darned if the not-all-that-fleet-of-foot quarterback got Bowman to the ground. Saved a score for sure.
Worst under-the-radar play: After the OU offense scored midway through the third quarter to take a 21-17 lead, the OU defense got a stop. The Sooners seemed to be gaining some momentum. On their next possession, they picked up a couple of first downs and looked poised to get into the red zone on a fourth-down pass that Gabriel zipped to Brenen Thompson. But the speedster receiver dropped the ball. Score again there, even if just a field goal, and OU might’ve been able to take control.
Best stat: OU held Gordon to only 137 yards. Now, there was a day not so long ago that Cowboys everywhere would’ve swooned over a running back rushing for 137 yards. But after the Cowboy superstar rushed for a combined 553 yards in the past two games, holding him to 137 was no small task.
Worst stat: OU turned the ball over three times. Two fumbles lost. One interception. Hard to win ball games when you give the ball away that many times. Nearly impossible to win rivalry games when that happens.
Best reason to feel good about OSU: These guys found a way to win, and they did it in a rivalry that hasn’t always been kind to OSU. Even though the Cowboys entered the game as the team playing better football, that hasn’t always equaled victory against the Sooners. Saturday, OSU fought through an up-and-down game. Impressive.
Best reason to feel good about OU: Even in another game that was riddled with issues, the Sooners still had a chance to win at the end. The same thing happened a week ago at Kansas. Sure, it’s disappointing that a team that beat a really good Texas team wasn’t able to beat the Jayhawks or the Cowboys, but the Sooners fought. A year ago, that might not have happened.
Best talk: “Damn, Bob’s killing it.” OSU coach Mike Gundy when told Bob Stoops was the all-time leader in Big 12 wins. Stoops finished with 121, but with Saturday’s win, Gundy became just the third coach to win 100 games in Big 12 play, joining Stoops and Kansas State’s Bill Snyder (104).