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When Brock Purdy last faced Jalen Hurts, a college football shootout unfolded. The 49ers rookie grew from it.

Philadelphia Inquirer 1/26/2023 EJ Smith, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts practices at the NFL football team's facility in Philadelphia, Thursday, January 26, 2023. The Eagles are scheduled to play the San Francisco 49ers Sunday in the NFC championship game. © Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts practices at the NFL football team's facility in Philadelphia, Thursday, January 26, 2023. The Eagles are scheduled to play the San Francisco 49ers Sunday in the NFC championship game.

When Matt Leo thinks of his only college game against Jalen Hurts, his belief in Brock Purdy is what overshadows everything else.

Leo, the Eagles practice-squad defensive end, doesn’t remember many of the moments that determined the 42-41 Oklahoma win in which his current team’s quarterback outdueled his college quarterback, try as he may for the reporters circled around him.

The spotlight has shifted back to that Big 12 shootout in 2019, with the Sooners’ Hurts and Purdy, the Iowa State standout-turned-San Francisco 49ers savior, set to face off once again this Sunday. This time, there’s a Super Bowl berth on the line.

Leo can’t remember many plays from his trip to Norman that year, only the feeling he had courtesy of Purdy.

“It was a trust,” Leo said. “I guess that’s why I didn’t notice too much. Having trust in Purdy back then as our quarterback, knowing he was just always cool, calm, and collected on the offense. It made it easier for us on the defense, even though we weren’t playing that great that day.”

Purdy’s play since being thrust into action as the third-string quarterback with San Francisco has largely fit Leo’s description. The 49ers go into the NFC championship game against the Eagles on a 12-game winning streak with Purdy, the final pick in last year’s NFL draft — aka Mr. Irrelevant — starting the last seven.

The 23-year-old has done well limiting mistakes since taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo, who suffered a broken foot in Week 13. Garoppolo had started the season as the backup behind Trey Lance before Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2. Since taking over, Purdy has thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs while completing 63% of his passes against the Seattle Seahawks and the Dallas Cowboys.

“He’s a really good player,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said Tuesday. “He plays extremely fast. He knows where to put his eyes. ... He doesn’t take a lot of sacks, but he makes quick decisions, he’s accurate, he gets the ball out of his hand.”

Leo, a converted rugby player from Australia, was a year ahead of Purdy at Iowa State. His initial memories of the quarterback date back to the spring of 2018, when Purdy started attending workouts earlier than most of his fellow incoming freshmen.

Unlike Leo, Purdy and Hurts each remember the major details from the dramatic unfolding on Nov. 9, 2019: the 35-14 advantage Hurts had helped the Sooners take into halftime, the feverish fourth-quarter comeback that Purdy orchestrated, and the failed two-point conversion that ended Iowa State’s upset hopes in an instant.

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The game resembled many Big 12 shootouts with wild offensive outbursts and the sense that the team with possession last would come away victorious.

“It was almost like you had to score every time you had the ball,” Purdy told local reporters earlier this week. “Different situation and scenario than what we’re about to go through on Sunday, but it was a fun college game. It was a great experience to go against Jalen. They had a great team, he was making plays and stuff, we felt like we had to do the same to keep up and stay in the game as well.”

Said Hurts: “I remember getting out early. Had like five touchdowns in the first half and then I think it was 35-14 at halftime or something like that, they ended up coming back. ... It was a good game, glad we won.”

Iowa State made it a one-point game with 24 seconds remaining in regulation when coach Matt Campbell elected to go for a two-point conversion. Purdy made a tight-window throw to Cyclones receiver Joe Scates, but it was wrestled away and picked off by Oklahoma defensive back Parnell Motley.

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Going into the biggest game of his football career, Purdy said he’s drawing from experiences like the one he had in Norman more than three years ago.

“Those kind of games definitely helped,” Purdy said. “With a lot being on the line, in the moment focusing on what’s in front of you, focusing on the defense rather than getting caught up in the crowd and all that stuff. I played in a couple of those games in college and I think it’s great experience for me to go back to and remember how I felt, what was going through my mind, how it affected my decisions, things like that. I definitely feel like I’ve grown from it, and I’m glad I went through something like that.”

Hurts had his share of big games in college as well. What he left that matchup with mostly was an appreciation for Purdy, who finished 19-for-30 passing for 282 yards and five touchdowns, as well as 15 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown. Hurts also put up big numbers: 18-for-26 passing for 273 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, along with 22 carries for 68 yards and two TDs.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Hurts said. “He’s always been a really good player, has a lot of moxie, he makes plays. He’s been doing that since college, so it’s no surprise that when he was given this opportunity to see the success he’s having now.”

The two young quarterbacks’ second meeting will have greater stakes.Hurts and Purdy each emphasized the different circumstances that surround this weekend’s game, but at least for Leo, there’s a feeling of nostalgia that comes with their rematch.

If the first matchup is any indication, points, passes, and chaos could be afoot as the NFC champion is determined.

“Going through this week, it’s almost like a battle of the Big 12 again,” Leo said. “That’s what it feels like.”

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