Cowboys Capture Cactus Bowl Victory

James Castleman and Desmond Roland were staring at a losing season and a disappointing end to their college playing careers just four weeks ago. But the two Oklahoma State seniors putting the finishing touches on careers in which they won 37 games over the past four years with Friday night’s 30-22 victory over Washington in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.

Castleman, the senior defensive tackle from Amarillo, Texas, touched the ball twice on offense for the first time ever for the Cowboys, and made the most of those touches, scoring a touchdown from the 1-yard line in the first quarter to give OSU a 7-0 lead.

But the biggest play – and one he’ll remember for the rest of his life – came with under three minutes to play and the Cowboys trying to run out the clock. Facing a third-and-two from their own 32, Castleman caught a pass from quarterback Mason Rudolph and ran over several Washington defenders en route to a 48-yard gain to the Huskies 17. It allowed the Cowboys to run the clock down to 47 seconds before Ben Grogan’s 27-yard field goal attempt was wide left. But a few plays later OSU cornerback Kevin Peterson intercepted a pass to clinch the victory.

Roland, a senior from Dallas, earned Offensive Player of the Game honors with an impressive effort against a Washington defense which entered the game as the nation’s 21st-best against the run. But the Cowboys senior ran for 123 yards on a career-high 32 carries (one more than his 31-carry against Texas Tech in 2013).

Roland did not score against the Huskies but he was a workhorse for the Cowboys against a Washington defense that included three All-Americans in nose guard Danny Shelton, defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha and linebacker Shaq Thompson.

“I was very proud of our team, our seniors who led us through the last month,” said Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy, whose record in bowl games improves to 6-3 with the victory. “Castleman and Des [Roland] have been around here when we’ve won a lot of games.

“I think on paper Washington was probably a little better than us when I evaluated them and watched the tape on them. We got off to a good start and made some plays and the defense played well. You knew they were going to come back and make a few plays, but we were able to hold on late,” Gundy said.

The Cowboys defense was outstanding for much of the game, led by sophomore linebacker Seth Jacobs, who was named the Defensive Player of the Game.

The Huskies were forced to punt after a three-and-out on their first four possessions of the game and trailed 17-0 by the time they made their initial first down with less than 10 minutes to play in the first half.

“You can’t say enough about the defense in the first half,” Gundy said. “The reason they played well is because they attacked (Washington’s offense). They came off and we hit them in the mouth. The defense stuffed the running game and got pressure on the quarterback.”

Washington eventually got rolling in the second half but the Cowboys defense did not allow the Huskies to score on four different possession into OSU territory on the night, including Jacobs’ diving tackle of quarterback Cyler Miles two yards shy of the first down marker on a fourth-and-seventh play early in the fourth quarter.

Rudolph, the true freshman who was making only his third start after having his redshirt pulled in late November, was 17-of-26 passing for 299 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target was Brandon Sheperd, who caught five passes for 98 yards, including a 47-yard catch and run for a touchdown in the final moments of the first half to give the Cowboys a 24-0 halftime lead.

The Cowboys finish with a 7-6 record – the ninth consecutive season with a winning record – although there were doubts after the first five-game losing streak since 2005 saw the team’s mark fall to 5-6 entering the final regular season game at Oklahoma. Just as they were Friday night as seven-point underdogs to Washington, the Cowboys showed their resiliency by rallying from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to upset the 21-point favorite Sooners 38-35 in overtime in early December.

Gundy believes that Bedlam victory led to great preparation for the Cactus Bowl.

“The last two wins have meant a lot to this team and this school,” he said. “It was the best bowl camp that we’ve ever had, including the Fiesta Bowl year, for whatever reason. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because we won the last game (over Oklahoma) to get bowl eligible. I thought it was the best three weeks of practice that we’ve had for a bowl ever. They made a decision to play hard, and the coaches did a really good job.”

Washington finishes the season with an 8-6 record.

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