A Week To Remember: OSU Crosses A Threshold

Just a week ago, at 1 a.m. Sunday the Oklahoma State Cowboys were just starting the second quarter in a thunderstorm-delayed game with Tulsa. This Sunday morning at 1 a.m., I was home after enjoying a great day at the office while watching Oklahoma State come from behind to beat Texas A&M 30-29 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

I had yet to see The Oklahoman Berry Tramel's column under a headline "Biggest Win in School History." I had not watched the ESPN GameDay feature story by Tom Rinaldi on brave cancer battler Olivia Hamilton and her special friendship with Justin Blackmon.

I had soaked up a very emotional day and a landmark day for all involved in the Oklahoma State football program -- from head coach Mike Gundy to Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon to Glenn Spencer and his sons, Luke and Abraham. It was an unforgettable day for everybody involved.

As I sat there with my wife having already fallen asleep and Sportscenter showing highlights of various games, tears started rolling down my face. They weren't tears of sadness, more tears of joy, but also raw tears of emotion. It was that kind of day and it rolled in front of my eyes, and likely yours as well, in a blur at times. My whole mind was starting to replay and grasp moments.

There was the moment, after arriving at Kyle Field on the OSU bus with the equipment and training staff at 9:20 a.m., that I picked up one of the new gray helmets sitting in a locker. It was Jonathan Rush's helmet and I wanted to check it out. I really like them, and then I saw the sticker on back with the initials "AS" for Angela Spencer.

Matt "Chief" Davis, one of the assistant equipment managers, relayed the story about how senior safety Markell Martin had gone to Gundy and suggested the gesture. Gundy, who would later use this as a point with the team after the game of how proud he is of them as people and caring about family members in the football program, felt the need to consult Coach Spencer, who is a private person. Knowing it was a gesture from the players, Spencer said yes. "Chief" and the equipment staff made it happen in roughly a 48-hour turnaround.

"You start with the lesson that these guys learned in life," said Gundy after the game. "Kind of to put closure to the situation with Coach Spencer. I am so proud of the way these guys react and embrace each other and the people in our football family."

There was a moment of the seeing Glenn and his sons after the team arrived at the stadium. The had smiles on their faces and it was easy to see the excitement on their faces after what has been a week of saying good-bye to a wife and a mother they had seen fight so hard through heart ailment and a heart transplant. Seeing how the entire team embraced them.

For anybody that ever doubts Gundy, and yes he may call a wrong play or make a questionable decision, but he has surrounded himself with a great staff and support team of individuals, and they have recruited talented football players. They are players with character that show all the signs of growing to be good people. It is the purpose Gundy outlines for his program right above winning football games.

"I was real emotional and I love Coach Spencer," said sophomore middle linebacker Caleb Lavey. "He has been through a lot and the whole team has been through a lot."

There was the moment of seeing the start of the game and Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill break through the middle off a zone read option for a 65-yard touchdown. It was a play that got an adjustment at halftime with the safety against that formation coming back toward the middle to help secure what was a huge running lane.

The rest of the first half there were more moments for A&M with another touchdown on a 17-yard bullet of a touchdown pass from Tannehill to Jeff Fuller. A&M mixed up run and pass to gouge the Cowboys defense, and the Aggies eventually added two field goals. Oklahoma State was able to move the ball, but penalties, poor field position, and sacks or negative plays stumped the OSU offensive effort.

One of the great advantages of my job is that I get to survey the halftime locker room. Those are moments I really lock in and try to remember from various games and this one will last forever.

Immediately, Gundy went to the offense and then the defense reminding the players that the first half was not a product of Texas A&M being the better team but instead because Oklahoma State was not doing the things they are capable of, and making mistakes that they could (and would) eliminate.

Gundy was not just talking motivational mumbo jumbo, he was pulling situations out from throughout the half of how the Cowboys weren't playing the way they normally do and how they have proven in the past of being capable of being better. What he saw coming back to him thrilled him.

It was not the look of a beaten team, but one that knew they could win and was eagerly awaiting instructions on how to get it done the second half.

"When they (assistant coaches) were discussing what was right and wrong, my job is body language and attitude," Gundy said of his locker room duty. "I had my opportunity to give them my opinion of what happened. We moved the ball good and had two penalties that took us out of drives.

"Our special teams weren't very good. We started inside the 10 (yard-line) twice and we missed six or seven tackles that allowed them to get big plays. Because of that we are behind, and all those things could be fixed going into the second half. The coaches had enough about them to stay calm, coach, and the players understand absorbing information and taking it back out there and understand that this team is good enough to win on the road. You pull that together and you get win."

After Gundy, Todd Monken went to work on the offense. The general message was we need to keep doing what we are doing. No magic play is going to get us back in the game. We need to do what we do and do it better.

There was one magic set of plays as Monken decided he wanted to go to the screen game more heavily in the second half. It worked like a charm and ravaged the A&M defense for chain moving gains up and down the field.

"Tempo stuff, they hated it," said Weeden. "They were falling down with injuries, faking it. It was a big key for us, the tempo."

"We have been in that situation before and we just told everybody we need to do what we do," said receiver Josh Cooper.

On defense, the comfort of Glenn Spencer coming down from the press box at halftime to diagram adjustments to every play that A&M hit on in the first half and then defensive coordinators Bill Young and Spencer talking the defense through all of it made everything seem right again. The defense gained strength not just from the adjustments, but the presence of the two men producing those adjustments. I've seen it happen repeatedly the last several years and this time was very special.

There was the first drive of the second half and seeing the offense come off the field after Jeremy Smith powered through the Aggies defense for a 13-yard score. Everyone looked so confident, especially Weeden, and it is Weeden that this offense looks to for stability.

"That was a key for us, coming out and scoring to start the second half," added Weeden. "That was the biggest possession of the game, no doubt."

"We came out and scored and then our defense really stepped it up and started making stops and getting the ball back for us," said Cooper. "We really played as a team a complete second half."

"We came out confident and we had a plan," said Blackmon. "We knew it was going to be a fight to the end and we did that, we fought."

The offensive line looked so determined, even after the loss of Jonathan Rush and momentary loss of center Grant Garner, the offensive line kept it up. That was another moment seeing Rush, who appears to have a torn ACL, come back to the bench on crutches after showering and changing into street clothes.

I knew how much he had looked forward to this game. He had talked about it with his offensive line teammates, three of which are Texans. They crave the opportunity to go home and play in Kyle Field or Texas' Memorial Stadium and beat the Aggies and the Longhorns.

I sat there for a second with Rush, who was in good spirits and still just wanted to walk out (on crutches) a winner. Rush and sophomore cornerback Devin Hedgepeth (Achillies) would finish their seasons on Kyle Field on Saturday.

"Parker (Graham) came in and played well when Jonathan got hurt, and we'll miss him," said center Grant Garner limping on a sprained ankle. "When I went out, Casey (LaBrue) came in and played well. That is what we do, pick each other up. I've never had more fun at OSU. This is a great day."

There was the anxious moments of the touchdown pass from Weeden to Blackmon into the shadows on the other side of Kyle Field. In my radio headset, I heard my radio partners Dave Hunziker and John Holcomb watch the replay and announce to the Cowboy Network domain that this was a touchdown and then to have referee Scott Novak echo their sentiments and make it official.

There was the outstanding play of inside receiver Josh Cooper, who so often is kind of the forgotten major contributor in this offense in the shadow of Weeden, Blackmon, and Randle. Cooper kept making catches, mainly on screens and kept making moves and busting through tackles.

"All of those guys have to pick up their blocks and we work that (screen) drill every day in practice," said Cooper. "It's nothing new to us and something we have to do out there. It was definitely wearing them down, knowing (the play call) and they couldn't keep up. That is our get it out."

How will I not remember Justin Blackmon changing his route and floating outside just in time for Weeden to pick him up and Blackmon to head unimpeded to the corner of the end zone only to lose control of the football before getting there and having the ball go in and out of the end zone for a touchback.

That play could have been a heart breaker and major momentum killer for the Cowboys. Blackmon never flinched and came over to the bench saying it was his fault but they would get it back. The team would get it back and Blackmon would help. Mistake, yes, but best possible recovery? Yes, again.

"That is how you have to play," Blackmon reinterated. "You can't look at the past and you have to look at the future. I knew our defense would do a great job and they got us the ball back. It was something we had to overcome. I knew I couldn't let it get to me. I just got up and smiled and went to the next play."

There was the constant fight of the defense and the play of little Brodrick Brown. Brown is listed at 5-8 and he's close, but he was covering A&M's 6-4 superstar wide receiver Jeff Fuller most of the day, and Brown kicked his can.

He consistently broke up passes and then outbattled Fuller for an interception and forced the game-winning interception by James Thomas. Brown is as great a battler as there is on the Cowboys.

Richetti Jones, while not getting full credit from the A&M stat crew, was a "wrecking ball" himself for Tannehill in the fourth quarter. Jones ran after Tannehill like those dogs in that deodorant commercial chasing those men with meat vests on. Jones was locked in on Tannehill.

"You know it was basically perseverance and just trying to get my teammates together and making plays," said Jones. "Whatever I can do to disrupt the quarterback and the offense and help my teammates, that is what I am here to do."

There was Markelle Martin, who is never shy about making contact. The play was flagged and should have been as Martin zeroed in on A&M leading receiver Ryan Swope. Did he lead with his helmet? Yes. Did he send a message heard throughout Kyle Field? Yes he did, and the message was the Cowboys were not leaving without the win. For the Aggies the message was try to get it at your own peril. Martin has sent messages in the past and most are received.

There was the tipped pass on A&M's last possession. Brown gets credit for the the tip and senior "star" linebacker James Thomas, one of the best back-up players in all of college football, gets the interception. "JT" is always making plays when they are needed.

"The leaders stepped up and everybody followed the leaders," said Thomas, who is one of those leaders. "The coaches had a great plan and in the second half we followed the plan. Like you said, we never blinked."

I won't forget for a long time the look on the face of the Cowboys players and coaches as Blackmon took off for the south end zone as the clocked ticked down as he run into the end zone and out for a game-ending safety. It was weird, yes, but it was a win -- a win by this team that has in the last seven years under Gundy has constantly changed things for Oklahoma State. One of those accomplishments is a senior class that has never lost to Texas A&M, four years in a row over the Aggies.

"I haven't (been asked to do that before)," Blackmon answered about being told to run 39 yards backward for a safety. "I was glad they had the confidence to ask me to do it, and whatever I am called upon to do that is what I'm going to try to do,"

"As long as we win the game it doesn't matter ... run Justin run," said Richetti Jones.

"Undefeated, and we love it baby," said Thomas of that four-game streak over A&M. "We didn't realize it until Coach Gundy said it, but we've got something special going on here and we are just trying to make this season great."

The victory against the Aggies has changed expectations, changed the way the outside world, especially the media, perceives Cowboy football, changed perceptions, and along with the geerosity of Boone Pickens and others, changed the way the program appears to ourselves and to those important recruits that are asked to come on board and continue the climb. That climb is getting close to the goal of a Big 12 and National Championship.

There were tears shed in that locker room after the game, most of joy and some for the memory of Angela Spencer and that she wasn't there to smile at what her husband was such an important part of on Saturday. There were tear that she wasn't there to hug Glenn and her boys. She was there, in the words of Mike Gundy, in the hearts of all.

"The way our team played in the second half, and I told them this, win or lose, that they learned a great lesson in life in how to care about other people and how to suffer and that's okay," Gundy stated.

"How to overcome that adversity and being down 17 on the road to a good football team, keep it together, and find a way to win. They have come a long ways and I truly believe that they learned a greater lesson in life and it had nothing to do with this football game."

There are other that were in College Station on Saturday, like Cowboy great Bob Fenimore and countless others that have touched the program or the people in it. You see, we are all a reflection of the people we have known and do know. We are a part of the group we choose to play for and with, work alongside, and those we choose to cheer for and wear their colors.

For all those with orange in their heart Saurday, Sept. 24, 2011 was a landmark, emotional day. One worthy of huge smiles, loud cheers, and in reflection, a few tears. The Cowboys and their fans have come a long way and there are no plans of stopping anytime soon.

GoPokes Top Stories