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Oklahoma 40 – Houston 14

December 26, 1981 ▪ at El Paso ▪ Attendance 33,816

After four straight Orange Bowl's, a disappointed Oklahoma (6-4-1) had accepted an invitation to play in the Sun Bowl opposite unranked Houston (7-3-1). It would be the first-ever meeting between the two schools.

The Cougars were playing in their 11th bowl game, and in the previous ten, had only lost twice and been tied once. Coach Bill Yeoman was in his 20th season pacing the sidelines, and in the six years since they had joined the Southwest Conference, he had initially guided them to three titles and Cotton Bowls in the first four years as a member.

They featured an offense that averaged only 20.4 points per game and relied heavily on junior quarterback Lionel Wilson, who had accounted for 1,881 yards in total offense. He had passed for 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns, and he was also the team's leading ball carrier, rushing for 656 yards and scoring seven touchdowns. When he did throw, he leading target was junior wide out Lonell Phea, who caught 29 passes and a pair of touchdowns. Linebacker Weedy Harris, who paced the team with 121 tackles, led their defense that permitted an average of 12.1 points per game, and he got help from defensive back Butch LaCroix, who intercepted seven passes.

For the Sooners, they entered after having just posted their worst regular season record in a dozen years, since going 6-4 in '69. It would be their 23rd bowl game, but only second as an unranked team. In addition, it would be a game that had an interesting subplot, for Sooners' senior quarterback Darrell Shepard four years earlier had embarrassed the Cougars by leaving after being the focal point of a recruiting violation.

The Oklahoma offense, which was averaging 27.4 points per game, featured consensus All-American Terry Crouch. However, it was not as potent as recent years, but still came in averaging only 356.8 yards per game, with 298.5 coming from the ground. At the helm was Shepard, who had completed just 26 of 56 passes for 371 and three touchdowns. The main threat out of the backfield was All-Big Eight junior Stanley Wilson, who had rushed for 1,008 yards. On defense, linebacker Jackie Shipp had set a team record with 182 tackles. He also combined with Thomas Benson, who had 116, to break the four-year old record for tackles by a pair of linebackers.

In front of just under 30,000 fans on a bright and blustery day in El Paso, TX, Shepard opened the scoring by breaking off a 34-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter. Houston broke through with the only score in the second period when Wilson plunged in from a yard out, and the score was tied 7-7 as both teams headed into the locker room.

With Wilson forced out of the game with an injury early in the second half, the Oklahoma wishbone didn't miss a beat as freshman Fred Sims stepped in, but the most they could muster was a 32-yard field goal by Michael Keeling late in the third period to take a 10-7 lead. Houston was on their way to taking the lead when Wilson hit Robert Durham out of the backfield with a swing pass, but as he raced 60 yards down the sidelines, defensive back Elbert Watts ran him down at the five and stripped him of the ball, sending it rolling into the end zone for an Oklahoma touchback.

Shepard promptly marched the Sooners 80 yards, scampering 42 yards to the Cougar nine-yard line, and then scored his second touchdown of the day from a yard out in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, to give Oklahoma a 17-7 lead. Keeling kicked a 49-yard field goal, and after Steve Whaley recovered Houston halfback Allen Polk's fumble at the Oklahoma 34, Sims capped the ensuing drive when he broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run to put the Sooners ahead, 27-7.

Houston didn't give up, and they found the end zone again when Jordan ran across from six yards out. But with less than two minutes to play, the Sooners sealed the once close game by tacking on a couple of more scores. After Sims rambled 48 yards, Ron Mills followed with a two-yard run. And then with 1:16 left, John Truitt intercepted a pass and ran it back 28 yards for another score, the final nail in a 40-14 rout.

Houston was plagued by miscues all afternoon. Shepard was at the controls of an explosive Oklahoma rushing offense that gained 409 yards in 54 carries. After gaining only 179 yards all season, Sims led all ball carriers by rushing for 181 yards on 18 carries and a score. But for Houston fans, Shepard had once again embarrassed the school, as he carried 17 times for 107 yards and a pair of touchdowns, garnering Most Valuable Player honors.

Source: Jeff Linkowski