Oct. 28, 2000

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By RICHARD ROSENBLATT
AP Football Writer

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oranges were scattered all over Owen Field, and the bright yellow goal post at the south end of Memorial Stadium lay in pieces in a corner of the end zone.

Oklahoma is back all right, thanks to Josh Heupel's passing in a dominating 31-14 victory over No. 1 Nebraska on Saturday - a win expected to send the third-ranked Sooners to the top spot when the AP poll is released Sunday.

The Sooners were last No. 1 at the end of the 1987 season - after beating Nebraska.

"I've said all along that I had a good feeling about who we are and what we've done," second-year coach Bob Stoops said. "I think we've more than proven who we are."

Heupel improved his Heisman Trophy chances by passing for 300 yards and a touchdown, Derrick Strait returned an interception 32 yards for a score and the Sooners held the Cornhuskers scoreless over the final 53:11.

"There is nothing like being a college football player and to play in a game where everyone across the nation is watching," Heupel said. "The crowd was great today and it was everything you dream of."

The Sooners (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) are in control of their national championship fate, while the Huskers (7-1, 4-1) have a chance to get back in the chase if they make it to the Big 12 title game for a probable rematch with Oklahoma.

Oklahoma plays three of its final four games on the road - at Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. The home game is against Texas Tech.

The Bowl Championship Series standings are released Monday, and the Sooners should move from second to first place. The BCS standings decide which teams play in a national title game - this season it's the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.

In ending the Huskers' 13-game winning streak - longest among major colleges - the Sooners became just the third team to beat the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in consecutive games. Two weeks ago, Oklahoma beat then-No. 2 Kansas State 41-31. The others schools to beat the top two teams in consecutive games were Notre Dame in 1988 and Southern California in 1964.

"I guess I'm supposed to be impressed by that," Stoops said. "But I don't look at it like that. They are in our conference and we need to win them to put us in a position to win a championship."

In the renewal of this great rivalry after a two-year absence, the Sooners ended an embarrassing seven-game losing streak against the Huskers, who outscored Oklahoma 265-61 during that span. Among the losses was a 73-21 setback in '96 at Norman. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Huskers under Tom Osborne and Sooners under Barry Switzer won or shared 16 consecutive Big Eight crowns.

This time, with Osborne and Switzer looking on, it was the Sooners who dominated a Nebraska team that was second nationally in scoring at 46.3 points per game and first in rushing at 379.7 yards. After the Huskers gained 169 yards on their first two possessions and took a 14-0 lead, the Sooners held them to 159 the rest of the way while scoring the final 31 points.

Oklahoma, which entered game as the nation's top scoring team at 46.7 points per game, finished with 418 total yards.

"The biggest thing was our offense. If you stop us from executing, you'll get the job done," said Huskers quarterback and Heisman contender Eric Crouch, who threw for 133 yards and a TD and ran for 103 yards and a score. "They played a great game and deserve to win. But like the Texas loss last year, it's almost a feeling of we beat ourselves."

Ahead 24-14 starting the third quarter, the Sooners put the game away with authority. Strait intercepted a pass by Crouch and ran 32 yards untouched into the end zone to break the Huskers' spirit. When Strait hit the end zone, the first wave of oranges came flying out of the stands, as the crowd of 75,989 began celebrating early.

Heupel also carried eight times for 46 yards. The only downside? His streak of consecutive passes without an interception ended at 145 after he was picked off by Troy Watchorn in the third quarter.

"Luckily enough, our defense did a great job," Heupel said. "After the first quarter, we picked things up and luckily we were able to do enough offensively to get things done."

Crouch tried to lead the Huskers back, but the Sooners wouldn't let up.

In the fourth quarter, wide receiver Matt Davison fumbled and the Sooners' Brandon Everage recovered. The fumble was forced by Strait. Later on, the Huskers were called for running into the punter and Oklahoma retained possession. And when time expired, the Sooners had their first win against a No. 1 team at home in six tries.

"We played well at times," Huskers coach Frank Solich said. "We put bits and pieces together but we really didn't get it done."

As the clock ticked down, the fans began chanting "We're No. 1! We're No. 1!" and then they rushed the field to celebrate the Sooners' biggest win in more than a decade.

Nebraska's loss marked the first time a No. 1 team was beaten during the regular season since Michigan State beat Ohio State 28-24 on Nov. 7, 1998.

Behind by two TDs after Crouch threw a 39-yard TD pass and then ran 37 yards for another score, Oklahoma regained its composure.

The left-handed Heupel hit Curtis Fagan for 19 yards to the 1, and fullback Quentin Griffin scored on the next play. Heupel then threw a 34-yard TD pass to Fagan on a third-and-14 play to tie it at 14.

The Sooners went ahead 17-14 thanks to a blocked punt by Josh Norman, which was recovered at the Huskers' 4 by Andre Woolfolk. Nebraska kept Oklahoma out of the end zone, but Tim Duncan kicked a 19-yard field goal with 6:06 left in the half.

Oklahoma extended its lead on Norman's 8-yard TD run, a play set up on Heupel's 37-yard pass to Antwone Savage.