Photo via YouTube
During the 2000 season, no one beat the Oklahoma Sooners.
From mid-November on however, plenty came close. The most adversity that Oklahoma faced all season arguably happened on this day 20 years ago.
The Sooners ranked among the top scoring teams in America that season, but it was a defensive play that saved them against Texas A&M. Torrance Marshall’s 41-yard interception return for a touchdown lifted Oklahoma past Texas A&M, 35-31.
Setting the Stage
Top-ranked Oklahoma was a pefect 8-0 as it arrived at Kyle Field in College Station on Nov. 11, 2000. The Sooners had not played a game that was closer than 10 points all year. To that point, Oklahoma had not trailed in the second half of any game.
Texas A&M was 7-2 and ranked No. 23 in the country. The Aggies had won four straight games. With 13 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Aggies looked to be on the verge of their biggest win yet.
Texas A&M led by as many as 14 in the contest. With the Aggies up 24-21 early in the fourth quarter, Ja’Mar Toombs’ punishing run looked like it might be too much for the Sooners to overcome.
On his way to the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown on 4th-and-short, Toombs mowed over multiple Oklahoma defenders. The extra point gave Texas A&M a 31-21 lead with less than 14 minutes to play.
With the help of three conversions on third down, the Sooners would answer. Quentin Griffin’s short touchdown run midway through the final quarter cut the lead back to three. Then came the biggest play of the game.
Now down 31-28, Oklahoma went ahead for good on the next play from scrimmage. After a good kickoff return, linebacker Torrance Marshall stepped in front of Texas A&M quarterback Mark Farris’ throw over the middle. Marshall tight-roped the sideline, setting up blocks before making his way to the end zone for the 41-yard touchdown with 7:18 remaining.
Texas A&M however, wasn’t done. Attempting to atone for his interception, Farris led the Aggies on sustained drive that took more than four minutes off the clock and reached the Oklahoma 4-yard-line. On 4th-and-goal, Farris’ throw to the end zone was knocked away by Oklahoma senior Ontei Jones.
The Texas A&M defense did its job as it got the ball back in Oklahoma territory with less than two minutes to play. Following consecutive incomplete passes from Farris, Oklahoma safety Roy Williams came through with a big sack to push Texas A&M back to near midfield.
After a penalty made it 4th-and-20, Jones and cornerback Derrick Strait combined to tackle Greg Porter well short of the first down on the Farris completion. The Sooners proceeded to run out the clock.
Texas A&M took advantage of a blocked punt, interception and fumble to take a 17-10 lead into the locker room. Farris got the scoring started with a 2-yard touchdown run before finding Robert Ferguson for a 4-yard touchdown.
Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel found Curtis Fagan for the Sooners’ lone touchdown of the first half. It gave Oklahoma a 10-7 lead — its last of the day prior to Marshall’s interception.
Heupel passed for 263 yards, but was intercepted twice. His second pick of the day set up Toombs’ 1-yard touchdown run that gave the Aggies a 24-10 lead in the third quarter. After an Oklahoma touchdown was negated by a penalty, Tim Duncan’s second field goal cut the lead to 11 after three.
Griffin’s 21-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter made it a 1-score game. The Sooners cut the lead to three when Heupel found tight end Matt Anderson for the 2-point conversion with 14:46 to go.
The loss for Texas A&M was the first of three straight to close the year. After getting blasted by rival Texas, the Aggies fell to Mississippi State in overtime of a thrilling Independence Bowl. They finished the season with a record of 7-5.
That Saturday in College Station marked the last time the Sooners would trail in the second half that season. The Sooners beat Texas Tech before holding off rival Oklahoma State and then Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship.
Oklahoma capped the year with a dominant defensive performance in a 13-2 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl for the national championship — its first in 15 years. That defensive performance however, might not have been possible without Marshall’s defensive play that took place on this day two decades ago.