FORT WORTH, Texas -- TCU coach Gary Patterson tried to calm down his celebrating players in the locker room. He told them to act like this win was just like any other.
But eventually, even Patterson admitted he wouldn’t be able to contain his excitement for long, either.
This wasn’t any ordinary win.
"Am I really excited? Do I want to go scream? Yeah. Yeah I do,” Patterson said. “Maybe somewhere where nobody can see me, I might.”
Nobody could blame Patterson for screaming, or the Horned Frogs for celebrating.
After two seasons of Big 12 mediocrity, TCU toppled fourth-ranked Oklahoma 37-33 Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium to send a message: The Horned Frogs are finally Big 12 contenders. And maybe something even more.
“We feel like we can win the Big 12 title,” said Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin. “And I’m pretty sure if we win the Big 12, we’ll have a shot [at the playoff]."
TCU entered the Big 12 in 2012 as a mid-major powerhouse, going 47-5 in its final four seasons as a member of the Mountain West. But the Horned Frogs compiled a 6-12 record against Big 12 opponents in their first two seasons in the conference and missed a bowl game last season for the first time in nine years.
TCU (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) had been yearning for a win to celebrate, to scream about.
Saturday, the Horned Frogs finally got it, catapulting them to Waco, Texas, with a chance to gain a stranglehold on the Big 12 race this upcoming weekend against No. 7-ranked Baylor -- the league’s only other still-undefeated team.
“We have a great opportunity now,” TCU defensive tackle Chucky Hunter said. “But we’re going to take this one game at a time and see where everything lands at the end of the season.”
While TCU’s playoff chances received a shot in the arm, Oklahoma’s were put on life support. Buoyed by their win over Alabama in last season's Sugar Bowl, the Sooners stormed into this season with Big 12 title and playoff aspirations. But after a dominating first four games, Oklahoma’s offense flat-lined in the fourth quarter in Fort Worth.
Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight completed just 14 of 35 passes and went through a key stretch in the second half when he completed only 2 of 10. The Horned Frogs also bottled up Oklahoma standout freshman running back Samaje Perine, who scored three touchdowns but rushed for only 59 yards.
Save for a blocked extra point return, the Sooners went scoreless in the fourth quarter.
“The bottom line is they made plays and we didn’t,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. “We had our opportunities and chances late in the second half and we couldn’t take advantage.”
Three times in the final seven minutes, the Sooners had the ball on the TCU side of the field.
All three times, the Sooners came up without points.
After the Horned Frogs fumbled two plays later, Oklahoma had another chance to take the lead with three minutes remaining. But on fourth-and-1 at the TCU 22-yard line, Perine was stuffed short of the first down by linebacker Marcus Mallet.
The Sooners had one final chance, but Knight’s Hail Mary attempt sailed out of the end zone as time expired.
“Finally, after two years, the football gods ... we finally got a little luck,” Patterson said.
There was nothing lucky about TCU’s win, however.
The Horned Frogs outgained Oklahoma, generated more first downs than Oklahoma and controlled the trenches better than the Sooners.
It was also the first time in 14 meetings TCU had ever scored more than 20 points against the Sooners, part of the reason why Patterson revamped his offense in the offseason, hiring coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to install an up-tempo, wide-open attack.
"We just didn't have enough firepower,” Patterson said.
No one has thrived more in the new attack more than Boykin, who remained calm and collected as Knight struggled. Boykin, who beat out Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel for the job in the preseason, completed 20 of his 38 passes and accounted for three touchdowns while generating a career-high 395 yards of offense. He also kept plays alive with his feet, burning the Sooners by escaping the pocket when they tried to blitz.
“He was tremendous,” Patterson said of Boykin, who has at least 250 yards passing in all four of TCU’s games. “The key for any quarterback is finding a way to win a big game. And he did that.”
While Boykin and the offense gave TCU its chance for a program-defining win, it was the defense that clinched it.
Paul Dawson, who arrived at TCU as a wide receiver and was sick and throwing up on the field during the game, picked off Knight at line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter.
“I was supposed to blitz,” Dawson said. “But I read [Knight’s] eyes.”
Dawson raced 41 yards with the interception for a touchdown to give the Horned Frogs a fourth-quarter lead.
His defensive teammates then did the rest.
“We opened a lot of eyes,” Hackett said, “that we have a great team, too.”
The Horned Frogs have been waiting to open eyes, to show they’re a conference title contender again.
They seem to be just that. And maybe even more.