STILLWATER, Okla. – There’s plenty of blame to go around in what was one of the most improbable finishes to a football game in the history of Oklahoma State. Let’s start with the Mid-American Conference officiating crew led by referee Tim O’Dey, which allowed Central Michigan to run a play after time expired and score the winning points on a Hail Mary pass to defeat OSU 30-27 at Boone Pickens Stadium.
According to Rogers Redding, NCAA Football Rules secretary-rules editor and national coordinator of college football officials, the game should have ended after OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph threw the ball away without a receiver near as time expired with the Cowboys leading 27-24.
The officiating crew threw a penalty flag for intentional grounding, and mistakenly ruled that Central Michigan had one untimed play. Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush threw a Hail Mary that was caught by receiver Jesse Kroll, who lateraled to teammate Corey Willis who outraced Cowboys corner Ashton Lampkin into the end zone for the victory.
“There’s a rule that says that the game cannot end on an accepted live ball foul. That’s the rule. There’s an exception to the rule that says if enforcement of the foul involves a loss of down, then that brings the game to an end,” O’Dey told a pool reporter after the game.
“So in that situation, we’ve had the opportunity to run it back through our hierarchy, which includes the national rules editor, and he confirmed that should have been a loss of down and the end of the game at that point, so that extension should not have happened.”
"The Mid-American Conference officiating crew ... made an error on the final play of regulation," Bill Carollo, the coordinator of football officials for the Collegiate Officiating Consortium, said in a statement. "The crew made a misapplication of the rule and should not have extended the contest with one final play. Despite the error, this will not change the outcome of the contest."
But not far behind O’Dey is Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy, who took the blame for the intentional grounding penalty by the officiating crew that led to the extra play.
“Just so everybody knows, I was the one that called the pass play,” Gundy said. “We talked it over for about 20 seconds there at the end for (Rudolph) to just get the ball and throw it out of bounds. He kind of moved a little bit, but I never really thought of intentional grounding being called at that time in the game. I told the team that part is on me because I'm the one that made that call. As much time as we put into end-of-game situations, that never really crossed my mind.”
"I asked the official, and they said that a penalty on the offensive team with the clock expired can't end the game. That's where it came to that point, I'm guessing... Either way, it was a bad decision on my part to throw the ball where we were still in the box to get the intentional grounding. Then they made a fantastic play to get to that point."
But blame doesn’t end with O’Dey and Gundy. The Oklahoma State running game was once again atrocious as the Cowboys rushed for 58 yards on 25 carries (2.3 yards per attempt). Freshman Justice Hill led the Cowboys with 31 rushing yards on five carries, and senior Chris Carson added 27 yards on eight attempts.
"We might have given up on it a little early,” Gundy said. “We got a couple that we got stoned on, but I'm not sure if it was really a fundamental thing. I've got to watch the tape because it's hard to tell what took place from where I'm at.”
Cowboys offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said, "Just impatience on my part (to not run the ball more). You know, just seeing guys open and wanting to give them the ball. Just trying to be aggressive and we have to be patient. We're playing some high safety looks, and we just have to do a better job staying patient."
The Cowboys rallied to take the 27-24 lead with just over five minutes to play when James Washington took a shovel pass from freshman Dillon Stoner, who was lined up as quarterback, on a fourth-and-one play at the 2-yard line. Washington outraced the Central Michigan defense to the corner for the go-ahead touchdown.
It looked like the Cowboys had escaped with the win over the Chippewas when cornerback Ramon Richards intercepted Rush at midfield with 3:10 remaining. And everyone thought the game was over following Rudolph’s pass that took the final four seconds off the clock … until the intentional grounding flag was thrown.
"They're hurting. They're mad. They're upset,” OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “But the last thing that was said was if we had won a close game like that or lost a close game like that, that really tomorrow is what matters from here on out. We as coaches beat ourselves up a lot. We have to get over it too and look at those third downs tonight and tomorrow.”
Gundy said, "Unfortunately, that's a difficult way to learn a hard lesson. I hate it for the team, but (Central Michigan) played well. Their quarterback is a really good player as I had mentioned earlier in the week. He made some key third-down throws. I don't have the stats in front of me, but he was really good on third down. We lost the running game for two-and-a-half quarters. We had too many three-and-outs on offense. Our inability to stop third-down passing and really establish some run to kind of offset our game plan took us out of the game for about two-and-a-half quarters.”