Is there any lead too large for this Oklahoma State football team? The Cowboys trailed Kansas State by 15 points on Oct. 3 before rallying for a 36-34 victory. They fell behind Texas Tech by 17 points but won easily 70-53. On Saturday, OSU again trailed by 17 points but kept their hopes alive for a Big 12 championship with a 35-31 victory over Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.
The eighth-ranked Cowboys improve to 10-0 for only the second time in school history. They now return to Boone Pickens Stadium for their final two games (next Saturday against No. 6 Baylor and on Nov. 28 against No. 12 Oklahoma) with a chance to capture the Big 12 title and a possible berth in the College Football Playoff.
But it wasn’t easy for the Cowboys.
Iowa State led 24-7 early in the second quarter and took a 24-14 halftime lead. The Cyclones still had a 31-21 lead early in the fourth quarter. But the Cowboys dominated the final quarter, outscoring the Cyclones 14-0 with the game on the line.
"I would like to challenge anybody that has been on a team as a player or a coach to be in the situations that we have and found a way to win. They're resilient," Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy said of his team. "I go back to their mental approach. They practice well all week. I didn't think they lost focus at all. Practices were good, they traveled good, we just didn't play very good in the first half.
"I said this all week long. I said it again last night, I said it again today, I said it in the locker room, [and] I said it before we left the hotel, you're challenge this week is to come out with as much fire in your stomach as you did last week, and we didn't. And that's all we talked about. I just don't understand why. We were just kinda flat."
J.W. Walsh pulled the Cowboys within 31-28 on a 16-yard keeper with 11:33 remaining in the game. Then the fifth-year senior quarterback threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Carr for a TD to cap a 12-play 84-yard drive for what proved to be the winning points with just over three minutes remaining. In the second half, Walsh scored two TDs and threw for the game-winner to Carr.
But the Cowboys defense also came up big in the fourth quarter after allowing the Cyclones to march up and down the field in the first half. In the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, the defense only allowed 33 yards and one first down.
They stopped the Cyclones on a fourth-and-1 play with two minutes to play and then free safety Jordan Sterns’ interception on Iowa State’s final possession allowed the Cowboys to win their 12th consecutive game, dating back to last season, establishing the second-longest win streak in school history (OSU won 13 in a row from 1944-46 for the school record).
"I think as the year goes on we continue to take steps and we have this experience and these scenarios, like Texas Tech, at Texas we fell behind, West Virginia was a tight one. We've been in this situations and we don't fluster ourselves, we just stay grounded, we keep fighting and we ended up on top," said Mason Rudolph, who was 24 of 36 passing for 327 yards and a touchdown.
"We had some sickness this week with some guys," said Gundy, referencing middle linebacker Chad Whitener, whose tackle on the fourth down play late in the game stopped Iowa State's Mike Warren short of the first down. "Mason Rudolph, he didn't do anything Wednesday. He was terrible in practice, and he was not good. Thursday he was average. Our medical staff did a great job getting those guys ready to go, but you burn a lot of energy when you're sick and you run out of gas fast, and you just don't feel good.
"I'm very proud of the team and what they've accomplished."