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For either Texas or Oklahoma to win a national championship, winning the Red River Rivalry is typically a prerequisite.
On this day 70 years ago, the Longhorns and Sooners played one for the ages. In the end, Oklahoma was just a little bit better in the top-5 showdown in Dallas, winning 14-13.
Setting the Stage
Oklahoma had won 23 games as it made its way to the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 14, 1950. The Sooners were 2-0 and ranked No. 3, but had struggled the week prior in a 34-28 comeback victory over Texas A&M.
The Longhorns were 2-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country. Texas had lost two straight to the Sooners in the series. But thanks to a defensive play in the final quarter, things were on the verge of changing.
The Decisive Moments
With less than five minutes to play in the contest, Texas held a 13-7 advantage. The contest was tied at 7 through three quarters, but Bobby Dillon’s 50-yard interception return for a touchdown had given the Longhorns the lead. Texas would miss the extra point, which would prove costly.
With time ticking away, the biggest play of the game may have been a Texas gaffe. Pinned deep, Texas punter Billy Porter mishandled the snap, which allowed Oklahoma to take over inside the Longhorns’ 15-yard-line.
After the first play on the ensuing drive resulted in no gain, Billy Vessels ran through a pair of Texas defenders to score from 11 yards out. Jim Weatherall knocked through the extra point to put the Sooners ahead for good.
Oklahoma finished with 290 yards of offense compared to 204 for Texas, but the contest was ultimately decided by missed opportunities. The Longhorns had one drive stall a yard short of the end zone and another ended with a fumble at the Sooners’ 5-yard-line.
Vessels scored Oklahoma’s first touchdown from two yards out in the first quarter. Texas tied the game on Byron Townsend’s 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Townsend led the Longhorns with 122 yards rushing in the loss.
Following the contest, neither team would lose again during the regular season. Texas ran the table before falling to Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl.
Oklahoma finished the regular season undefeated and No. 1 in the AP Poll. Under legendary Bud Wilkinson, that would serve as the Sooners’ first national championship. Oklahoma did lose to Kentucky in the Sugar Bowl, but national championships, at the time, were awarded at the end of the regular season.
Texas defeated Oklahoma the following season, but it would be 13 years later before the Longhorns won their first national championship. Had it not been for a fumbled snap and a late touchdown, it may have come much sooner. The heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma came on this day seven decades ago.