Tuesday, January 3, 2012
OSU's emotional season finds a fitting end
By David Ubben
Justin Blackmon caught eight passes for 186 yards and three TDs in an emotional Fiesta Bowl victory.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With a finish as wild as that, it's a little hard to tell whether the tears stemmed from sadness or elation.
For most of Oklahoma State, the finish was the latter. For some, it was a whole lot of both.
Three seconds remained in a season that took Oklahoma State to heights it had never reached, and lows that changed lives forever.
With the game tied at 38, a few Cowboys knelt on the sidelines. Others couldn't watch.
The fans behind the end zone -- dressed in cardinal for Stanford and orange for Oklahoma State split evenly at the goal post -- would tell the bench if the season continued for a few more minutes.
Stanford redshirt freshman kicker Jordan Williamson sent the orange-clad Cowboys fans into a frenzy when his 35-yard kick sailed wide left, giving life to the Cowboys' season and setting off a storm of chest bumps.
Oklahoma State took advantage, grabbing a win in overtime, 41-38, when kicker Quinn Sharp drilled a 22-yard field goal to put a most emotional exclamation point on the Cowboys' dream season. This was the season Fiesta Bowl MVP Justin Blackmon and quarterback Brandon Weeden imagined when, last January, they told the nation they had more business to attend to in Stillwater. Big 12 champions. Fiesta Bowl champions.
"This was it," Weeden said, "This was sort of our fairy tale ending."
Albeit an anticlimactic one.
After stuffing Stanford and another Williamson miss, Oklahoma State got what it wanted.
Stanford dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for almost 42 minutes, compared to Oklahoma State's 18. Chances were good the Cowboys perhaps unfairly maligned defense would be on the field to decide the game.
The celebration that ensued after Williamson's miss wasn't one of euphoria, it was one of anticipation. Finally, a team that won the Big 12 and reached the BCS on the back of its offense would have its offense on the field to decide the game.
Weeden hit Colton Chelf -- both started their Oklahoma State careers as walk-ons -- for a senior-to-senior connection that looked like it sent the duo out in style with a game-winning touchdown.
"I just ran over the middle of the field and nobody was there," Chelf said. "I thought I was in."
The Cowboys mobbed Chelf and dogpiled in front of the OSU faithful in the end zone. Weeden emerged with a smile and a double fist pump. Blackmon ran out of the pile and celebrated with a kiss from his cheerleader girlfriend, Mariel Dunlap.
The Cowboys, though, would have to wait to celebrate their first 12-win season and first BCS win. An officials' review called Chelf down inside the 1, and Quinn Sharp would need to seal it with a kick.
He did, unleashing the orangest of evenings on the Arizona desert.
It came seven weeks after one of the darkest days in Oklahoma State history. The Cowboys awoke on the day of their Nov. 18 game against Iowa State to news that women's basketball coach Kurt Budke was among four killed in a plane crash. Later that night, the 10-0 Cowboys lost, too.
A friend and mentor was gone.
Trivial though it may suddenly seem, so was a national championship.
Monday night, though, Budke's wife Shelley stood on the podium and received the Fiesta Bowl trophy from coach Mike Gundy, who dedicated the game to the four killed in the crash. The Cowboys also added a patch to their helmets for the final two games with a "4" and the victims' initials in the logo. It sits next to an "AS" patch to honor Angela Spencer, the wife of running backs coach Glenn Spencer, who died on the night Oklahoma State beat Tulsa -- a game with a post-midnight kickoff because of a weather delay.
Monday's win can't change the past, but it can offer a brief moment of happiness to those still affected by literal sudden death in a game that's supposed to be about kids having fun.
Gundy hugged a teary-eyed Budke.
Plenty of tears surrounded the platform. Before the trophy presentation, Chad Clay, one of the school's top donors, gestured to the team and school he and others had written checks to over the years.
"Y'all don't understand what you just did," he said to a team wearing fresh Fiesta Bowl championship T-shirts. Years of frustration and beatings from Oklahoma. From 1989-2002, the Cowboys went to one bowl game.
Now, they'll probably finish the season as the nation's No. 2 team. They might have some idea of what they just did.
"This is probably the biggest win in Oklahoma State football history," Weeden said.
Indeed it is, even though it took a 44-10 beating of Oklahoma to get here, a win narrowly topped on Monday night.
Blackmon starred and rightfully took home the hardware as the game's best player, grabbing eight passes for 186 yards, three touchdowns and a whole lot of shedded tackles.
"That's what he's done all year long. You could tell they were set out to stop him," Weeden said. "It doesn't matter. You can't stop 81. Especially when he's pissed off."
Blackmon disagreed about his mental state after the offense's early struggles. Chelf admitted the offense was "rusty" from a month-long layover after the Bedlam beatdown. It was held without a point in the fourth quarter for the first time all season.
"I wouldn't say I was mad. Just irritated with what was going on," Blackmon said. "I knew we could play better. I just tried to help the team play as best they could. If that takes me getting mad, I guess I get mad and go out there and do it."
They did it. And starting with an unassuming news conference with a couple folding chairs and a table a year ago and all the way until tonight, they provided Oklahoma State with a season and two players it will never, ever forget.
Two unforgettable Stanford kicks helped OSU stage the first fourth-quarter comeback of its season, too, but these Cowboys will take it.
"The big man upstairs? He blessed us on that one," assistant recruiting coordinator Terrel Harris told the Cowboys, just before Gundy gave a preview on the podium of his signature dance move, the Gundy, as his team egged him on. "Y'all know, though, we're back on the grind again in a couple weeks."