SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Chase Daniel's pass was a high fastball aimed at his tight end, but to Curtis Lofton it looked as if it was in slow motion.
Lofton was in the right place to haunt Daniel a second time this season, and it sent No. 9 Oklahoma to its fifth BCS bowl game in the past six years.
``It felt amazing,'' said Lofton, who has made a name for himself this season with a seemingly endless string of big plays at just the right moment.
The junior who coach Bob Stoops called his most productive linebacker in a tenure that's included two Butkus Award winners came away with the pivotal interception to help the Sooners (11-2) take a 14-point, third-quarter lead on their way to a 38-17 win Saturday night against top-ranked Missouri (11-2) in the Big 12 championship game.
Lofton made a habit of causing huge turnovers during the regular season, and this one assured the Sooners of reaching at least their second straight Fiesta Bowl, and possibly even the berth in the national championship game they denied Missouri.
Lofton said defensive coordinator Brent Venables told players right before they returned to the field, ``It's time for a turnover, time for a turnover.'' It was like he flipped a switch on his turnover machine.
``I saw the formation, read the play and I just broke on the ball,'' Lofton said.
Lofton was there waiting when Daniel's pass skipped off of tight end Martin Rucker's hands, and he returned it 26 yards to the 7-yard line to put Oklahoma on the doorstep for a huge touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Jermaine Gresham.
``When I got to the sidelines, Chase knew it was coming early, the coach knew it was coming early, but it seemed like I was the only person that didn't know the ball was coming when it did,'' said Rucker, Missouri's leading receiver this season. ``So that's my fault.''
Missouri never again threatened, going without a touchdown in an entire half and scoring less than 30 points in a game both for the first time this season.
Lofton said the Sooners were fired up by Missouri players who'd talked this week about giving away the previous game with two fourth-quarter turnovers. As defensive back Nic Harris walked into the Sooners' locker room he announced, ``I guess they gave this one away too. Welcome to OU football!''
``We kind of saw it as disrespect to our defense and what we had accomplished throughout the season,'' Lofton said. ``You just want to come out and play a complete game, be real physical with them and let them know that we're a great defense.''
For Lofton, it was the fifth time already this year that he forced a critical turnover to help Oklahoma get a win.
In the mid-October showdown when the Sooners handed the Tigers their previous loss, Lofton picked up a botched handoff between Daniel and receiver Jeremy Maclin and returned it for a touchdown that put the Sooners in control 35-24 in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma won 41-31.
Lofton also forced a fumble by Texas' Jamaal Charles to prevent him from scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the Red River Rivalry game, tipped a pass that safety D.J. Wolfe intercepted in the end zone to help seal a victory at Iowa State and forced a fumble on a goal-line stand last week against Oklahoma State.
Lofton, tabbed the Big 12 defensive player of the year this week by The Associated Press, said the big plays are a result of his mental preparation. When Lofton is gearing up for the game, he'll envision his opponent's formations and dream of himself making the big play. Those dreams just keep coming true.
``It's just a great feeling, and it changed the momentum for us,'' Lofton said.
His flair for the dramatic is quickly earning him a place alongside Oklahoma's fine linebackers of the past, including recent Butkus Award winners Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman.
After an eight-tackle performance against Missouri, Lofton leads Oklahoma with 140 stops - more than 50 ahead of his most productive teammate. Calmus and Lehman never neared that total, and Lofton also has three interceptions and four forced fumbles this season.
The last Sooners player with more tackles was Brian Bosworth, another Butkus Award winner, with 144 in 1985.

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