NEW ORLEANS -- During the postgame celebration just before midnight at the Superdome, Oklahoma defensive end Geneo Grissom was overcome with emotion.
His team, the Sooners, knocked off Alabama 45-31 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The turf was coated with red and white confetti as OU officials slapped Sugar Bowl hats on every person wearing pads and a Sooner jersey.
"This morning when I woke up I had a really good feeling about the game today," Grissom said, "and I was able to play a good game and help my team win."
The victory in front of a national television audience and more than 70,000 in attendance supplanted Oklahoma's place -- again -- in the pantheon of college football programs. But make no mistake -- the Sooners needed this win more than an Alabama team that has ruled over college football for half a decade did.
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They needed it for recruiting. They needed it for prestige. They needed it to remind their fans of just who they are and what they stand for. OU coach Bob Stoops couldn't have been more proud of his players.
"In the second quarter there when we started fighting back and started to get the momentum, and then to end the game with a couple of big defensive plays," Stoops said. "I'm just proud of our players. I feel very fortunate. They're a great group. So, it was a fun day."
Through the first series of the game, Alabama looked to be in complete control. The Crimson Tide rolled 75 yards in just five plays for the first points of the game.
The Tide wide outs were having their way with the OU secondary during the first series. Then the OU offense took the field, and with quarterback Trevor Knight starting the game, Oklahoma looked capable of answering a punch with a punch.
Knight threw a pass that was tipped by senior wide out Jalen Saunders into the hands of Tide defensive back Landon Collins. The 17 points Alabama was favored by in Vegas not only looked deserved but assured.
Then, on the first play of Alabama's second series, senior safety Gabe Lynn picked off an errant AJ McCarron pass. The Sooner sideline, featuring former Sooners Adrian Peterson, Trent Williams, Gerald McCoy and Jammal Brown as well as members of the band Kings of Leon, erupted.
Knight followed up his thrown pick with a 45-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Lacoltan Bester to tie the game at 7-7.
With that play, the message was sent.
It was loud.
It was clear.
Oklahoma meant to win Thursday night.
Alabama, being the third-ranked team in the country, managed to put 10 more points on the scoreboard but not without the Sooners dropping 24 more of their own. At halftime, No. 11 Oklahoma led No. 3 Alabama 31-14.
The Sooner offense looked like it was about to peter out with the start of the second half. Its first three possessions of the third quarter netted just 21 yards, and the Alabama offense was regaining its footing.
With 8:49 left in the third quarter, the Tide made it a one score ballgame. The score remained 31-24 when the fourth quarter began, but the Sooners needed another score.
That's what they were looking for.
They got it with just fewer than 11 minutes left to play in the game. The touchdown was set up by a 34-yard bomb from Knight to Bester. A touchdown pass from Knight to sophomore wide out Sterling Shepard gave Oklahoma a 38-24 lead.
The Sooners continued to match Alabama touchdown for touchdown, and in the waning moments of the game, Grissom finished the Tide off with a scoop and score. His play along with that of sophomore linebacker Eric Striker flummoxed and frustrated McCarron all night.
"You know, we can rush," Stoops said. "Two things, we've got individual pass rushers. Then, I thought Mike Stoops, our defensive coach who does our blitzes, really came home. Our blitzes really worked their protection pretty well, and we got to them."
Knight was named bowl MVP, but Grissom's two sacks, two fumble recoveries and his touchdown cannot be understated. Neither can this win for Oklahoma.
"It means everything," Grissom said. "It means everything, and I'm glad to be a part of this team."