OU football team gets message as lights go out to beat Kent State

NORMAN — It looked like a power outage swept through all of Owen Field.

OU was looking for momentum early in the third quarter of its home game against Kent State on Saturday. The Sooners held a 7-3 lead when quarterback Dillon Gabriel passed the ball to Marcus Major.

The redshirt junior running back found a hole on the right side, dribbled through a defender and rolled into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown.

The stadium lights immediately went out for a brief moment, but came back on in strobe-like fashion as the OU touchdown cannon went off. The LED light show was a new addition that debuted Saturday, so new that even OU players didn’t know it was happening.

But it was a hit.

OU won 33-3 to improve to 2-0 on the season, and the newly installed light show set the tone for an energetic atmosphere for 83,911 spectators.

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“I thought our fans were just outstanding,” OU coach Brent Venables said. “It was a really nice game day environment today. A new lighting system was a neat addition. I know our guys really fed off the energy of the crowd tonight.”

The atmosphere was a drastic improvement from last week’s season opener against UTEP.

A total of 83,173 turned out for the first game of the Venables era, but the crowd’s life gradually evaporated as temperatures reached the high 90s without a merciful gust of wind in sight.

Large chunks of open real estate were seen across the grandstand from the second half, and those who made a point to pick it up kept their energy up by being more subdued than raucous.

“At the end of the day, we have a job to do,” redshirt senior defensive back Justin Harrington said. “If we’re crying about the top half (of the world) leaving the game, we’re not focusing on the right things. It’s hot. I don’t blame them.”

But Sooners fans were out in full force Saturday. OU scored 24 unanswered points in the third quarter to take a 31-3 lead and The Palace on the Prairie turned into The Party on the Prairie.

The stadium lights flickered on and off to electronic music every time the Sooners lined up for a kickoff after a touchdown, and a sea of ​​lights swept the stands as fans waved their lit phones in the air.

Even when the fourth quarter was reduced to formality, the field continued to rock until the final seconds of the game counted. It’s an atmosphere the team hopes will remain high as the rest of the season unfolds.

“It was good to add something to the crazy fans out there,” Harrington said. “It was kind of cool. The light when everyone turned on their flashlights was kind of crazy. Down the road, our next five home games, it’s going to be a factor with our opponents coming up.”

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Fans light up the stadium with their phones as Kent prepares for a kickoff during the college football game between the University of Oklahoma and the Kent State Golden Flashes at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Saturday, 10 September, 2022.

Big-play Billy Bowman

Billy Bowman had been looking for an opportunity to force a dig all night.

And when that opportunity came, he took it.

OU held a 14-3 lead early in the third quarter when Kent State quarterback Collin Schlee threw a touchdown pass to Devontez Walker. The redshirt sophomore wide receiver hauled the ball in, but didn’t have it for long.

Bowman immediately ambushed Walker from behind. The sophomore safety got his hands on the ball and squeezed it out of Walker’s hand, sending it rolling across Owen Field.

Bowman hit the deck in an attempt to recover the ball and won that battle as well. He stood up and proudly displayed the ball in his hands as the stadium lights flashed in celebration.

“It was very important,” Bowman said of the recovery. “We were looking for one the whole first half. We just needed someone to make a play, and it happened to be me. If it was anyone else, it would have been the same.”

It was fitting that Bowman was the player to deliver.

The takeaway served as a capstone to a strong outing from the second-year Sooner. Bowman finished with a career-high 11 tackles.

“It’s great,” Bowman said. “It’s great to hold teams to zero or three points and out of the end zone. It’s a great feeling.”

Bowman continues to justify Venables’ decision to make him a starter this season.

It was a leap of faith considering the growing pains Bowman experienced last season. The then-freshman Sooner was forced to move into the secondary due to a wave of injuries to the team and eventually played himself out of the rotation toward the end of the season.

Bowman has made strides since then. Venables described the sophomore as one of the team’s “best workers” and “most consistent guys” during fall camp, and that has translated to the field this season.

After recording a career-high nine tackles in Week 1 against UTEP, Bowman eclipsed that total on Saturday. It’s a strong start for a player who isn’t the wide-eyed freshman he was last season.

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First female Big 12 official debuts in Norman

The Big 12’s first female referee, head judge Cat Conti, officiated her first game in Norman on Saturday.

Conti began her career as a high school and youth judge clerk in 2000. She also worked as a high school English and drama teacher during that time.

Conti’s first Division I officiating opportunity came in 2010 when she began working in the Southland Conference and worked a Mountain West game the following year.

After being listed as a substitute referee for a Big 12 game in 2012, Conti made her conference debut two years later during a game between Kansas and Southeast Missouri.

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OU's Billy Bowman (4) celebrates a sack with Jordan Kelley (88), Reggie Grimes (14) and Ethan Downs (40) in the third quarter of Saturday's win over Kent State.

OU’s Billy Bowman (4) celebrates a sack with Jordan Kelley (88), Reggie Grimes (14) and Ethan Downs (40) in the third quarter of Saturday’s win over Kent State.

Availability updates

Senior offensive lineman Wanya Morris and junior safety Key Lawrence did not suit up Saturday.

Morris has yet to play this season due to off-field issues, but Venables said he feels like next week’s road game against Nebraska “might be the week” Morris returns.

Lawrence’s availability is also up in the air moving forward. Venables said the junior safety tweaked his hamstring earlier in the week but hopes he’ll be available “sooner rather than later.”

Daniel Parker made his OU debut Saturday after missing the season opener against UTEP due to what Venables described as “the sniffles.” Parker finished with two receptions for 21 yards.

This article originally appeared in The Oklahoman: OU football: Sooners feed off LED light show for storm over Kent State

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