Kendel Dolby and the play that saved the Sooners

Kendel Dolby and the play that saved the Sooners

Guerin Emig: Wild how a 3-hour, 27-minute game that nobody has any idea which team will win can come down to five seconds, the time it takes one player to finish that game in one single play. “I was just running to the ball,” Kendel Dolby said, “being a football player.”

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

| Oct 21, 2023, 8:03pm CDT

Guerin Emig

By Guerin Emig

Oct 21, 2023, 8:03pm CDT

NORMAN — An hour after Kendel Dolby saved Oklahoma’s 31-29 victory over UCF and kept the Sooners unbeaten, he was asked to name the biggest play he’s ever made in a football game. 

“The biggest play… You’re sayin’ altogether?” he asked. 

Yeah. In your life.

“Hmm.”

Where would this one rank?

“This is probably number one, I ain’t gonna lie,” Dolby finally busted out, his smile as big a giveaway as the play he’d made. “Yeah this is number one for sure. I feel like it was a big-time moment, a game-on-the-line kind of play.”

Wild how a 3-hour, 27-minute game that nobody has any idea which team will win can come down to 5 seconds, the time it takes one player to finish that game in one single play. 

“I was just running to the ball,” Dolby said, “being a football player.”

He makes it sound so simple. Was it?

UCF lined up for its game-tying two-point try with 1:16 remaining, right after burning the Sooners for a 12-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-10. The Knights had two tight ends on the right side of the formation, with a running back next to quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. 

That meant OU kept eight defenders near the line of scrimmage. Dolby lined up opposite Javon Baker, UCF’s slot receiver wide left. Woodi Washington lined up opposite Xavier Townsend, the receiver split wider left.

When Townsend motioned toward Plumlee, Dolby slid away from Baker and kept watch on Townsend, leaving Washington to slide over opposite Baker. 

Townsend, now in UCF’s backfield, stopped his motion as Plumlee took the snap. Then he suddenly cut back and took Plumlee’s backward pass at the 10-yard line, headed wide left. 

“Motioned back out,” Dolby said of Townsend. “I saw him and grabbed him.”

Billy Bowman, the third defensive back on the right side of OU’s defensive formation, followed Baker toward the back corner of the end zone. Washington held his ground briefly before collapsing toward the end zone to protect against both Baker and Townsend.

Dolby had a direct bead on Townsend in open space. 

“We watched a lot of two-point plays that they had run over the last couple years,” OU coach Brent Venables said. “We certainly have had a little bit of exposure to Coach (Gus) Malzahn. Our guys were ready for it. They did a nice job of executing in that moment.”

It looked like he wanted to throw,” Dolby said of Townsend. “My job was just to go get him, whatever he wanted to do.”

Townsend wanted to throw all right. He was staring at Baker and about to cock his arm as he sped wider left. 

“They did a pretty good job,” Malzahn said of OU’s defensive preparation. “There’s a little window (for Townsend to throw). That’s one of our staple plays that we’ve practiced probably 20 or 30 times… The guy (Dolby) got up in his (Townsend’s) face as he was running left. It was just hard for him to get it there.”

As reality struck Townsend —  he was sprinting too wide to turn squarely toward the end zone and try to run the ball in, and he had lost his split-second shot to throw — Dolby pounced with the biggest open-field tackle of… 

Well, yes, his life.

Then? 

“To be honest it was a blur,” Dolby said. “I just remember Jaren (Kanak, OU’s linebacker) grabbing me and picking me up. That’s all I remember.”

That’s all he needed to remember. The final score took care of the rest. 

The Sooners head to Kansas next Saturday still undefeated, and still chasing conference and national glory, because they made one last play in their final five seconds of defense.

In the game of football there’s a really small margin of error,” linebacker Danny Stutsman said. 

“I saw a disciplined football play,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “The coverage guys stayed in coverage and the guy who was supposed to come get his man came and got his man and tackled him.”

That simple? 

That simple, according to the Sooner who got his man and tackled him.

“Just making a play,” Dolby said again. “Being a football player.” 

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Guerin Emig is a columnist for the Sellout Crowd network. Read his work at selloutcrowd.com and guerinemig.com. Reach out with feedback and/or ideas at [email protected] or (918) 629-6229. Follow him on Twitter at @GuerinEmig and Instagram at @guerin.emig. .

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