OSU-Central Michigan: One Heckuva Mess

Oklahoma State fans were preparing to celebrate the Cowboys come-from-behind victory over Central Michigan until one of the greatest officiating errors imaginable turned the tables Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium.

STILLWATER – Who would have thought that on about as beautiful a September day as you could dream up in north central Oklahoma one of the craziest finishes with one of the greatest officiating errors, a blatant wrong decision by the officials in not following a written rule, would leave Oklahoma State and its fans frustrated and perplexed and Central Michigan dancing with one of its biggest upset wins in school history.

The story needs to be broken down in parts and the most critical part was the finish. The Cowboys having needed two chances to get the lead back after Mason Rudolph threw an interception on first-and-goal at the 5-yard line with 6:33 left in the game had linebacker Devante Averette be a hero on the very next play as he stripped the ball from Central Michigan running back Devon Spaulding, recovered it and rumbled down to the CMU 11-yard line. 

Three plays later on fourth down, head coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, during a time out, called back on a scheme they worked on in fall camp with freshman receiver Dillon Stoner lining up as a "wildcat" to take the snap where he literally tapped it to fellow receiver James Washington coming across for a nifty touchdown play, a modified jet flip, call it a jet to jet tap.

"They had a lot of guys that were playing inside run. I think I mentioned this before that when you're not a pro-style team, that is the hardest yard to get," Gundy said. "We felt like we had to use that scheme that we had practiced. At times, when you practice something, you've got to use it. If not, don't practice it. That's really what it came down to... He is a true freshman, but he's a little different than most true freshmen. He's pretty savvy and has been around a lot."

The Cowboys, who were out gained 418 yards to 346 on the day, had the lead 27-24. They were one defensive stop away from a hard-fought harrowing win. Sometimes just winning is a relief on a day when things aren't clicking. The offensive line had too many busts. The run game either wasn't capable or maybe didn't get a fair chance. Mason Rudolph didn't have his best day throwing the football, often times high off the mark.

The defense, which also had struggles with stopping the intelligent throwing plan of the Chippewas and quarterback Cooper Rush, picked off a Rush pass on an out route that Cowboy corner Ramon Richards saw on tape.

"I was watching extra video and I saw in that formation they lined up in that they often went to the out," Richards said in the locker room. "I saw it and it came right to me."

The Cowboys proceeded to work at running out the clock and came up with four seconds too many. Another time out and Gundy went with a plan they had used in practice. They snapped it to Rudolph, he held it and then threw a high lob downfield and out of bounds as the clock ran out. Rudolph was even blasted by a couple of defenders.

"Just so everybody knows, I was the one that called the pass play," Gundy said to the media after the game. "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."

This is where it gets really weird. The flag for intentional grounding was thrown and despite later discovery with the rule book that it was wrong, the officiating crew called for one untimed down. Even the unknown but veteran Big 12 replay official did not call down and save the calamity and embarrassment for referee Tim O'Dey and his MAC officiating crew.

"I asked the official, and they said that a penalty on the offensive team with the clock expired can't end the game," Gundy said afterwards. "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."

Oklahoma State rushed five and put some pressure on Rush, who fired the ball from near midfield down to his favorite receiver Jesse Kroll near the 9-yard line. Kroll, as he was going down in the arms of Richards, pitched the ball back to Corey Willis, who ran across the field and stretched out for what was ruled a touchdown.

Credit the Chippewas for an improbable highlight play to top all plays of the day, but the brutal reality came later with multiple reviews of the rule book and The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel going to the officials dressing room as a pool reporter to question referee Tim O'Dey.

Tramel: On the extension of the game – we’ve always heard that the game can’t end on a defensive penalty. What’s the rule that extends the game on an offensive penalty?

O'Dey: 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. 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.

Tramel: So it’s not the offense or defense – it’s the loss of down?

O'Dey: The accepted live ball foul will extend any period, unless there is an exception that applies to that rule, and there’s an exception which applies to a loss of down foul, which intentional grounding is a loss of down foul. If the penalty statement includes the statement ‘loss of down’ then the game ends on that play.

Tramel: It was a loss of down. I think you announced it as a loss of down, even.

O'Dey: (no verbal answer, but nods head yes)

Tramel: Okay, so what you’re saying is that the game should have ended and it should not have been Central Michigan’s ball, just to be clear?

O'Dey: That is the interpretation from the rules editor – the national rules editor, yes.

Tramel: Who is the national rules editor?

O'Dey: Rogers Redding.

Actually, Redding is the national coordinator for college football officiating, the guru.

Boy, is this one helluva mess? What to do? 

There will be a lot of screaming, bashing of officials, and phone calls demanding justice. Central Michigan cleaned up, packed up, and got out of town before anybody changed the score.

"Well, you get an untimed down in a Hail Mary situation, and they're in prevent defense," CMU head coach John Bonamego said. "You know you can give your quarterback time, and there will be a light box because they aren't going to send that many in that situation. Cooper Rush had enough time to crow-hop into that throw and found Jesse Kroll down the seam there. In that situation we're telling our guys to never go down with the ball - it's touchdown or turnover there - so he alertly found Corey Willis who was in the trail position there, and Corey did the rest. It's an improbable finish, but it's a situation that we've practiced and rehearsed and we were able to execute and find a way to win.

"We just kept telling the guys to keep playing and not to look at the scoreboard," he added. "We told them to keep their heads down and keep grinding, and let's figure out what we're doing wrong and get better. Oklahoma State is a great football team and this is a great win for this team, a great win for our program, and I don't really know what to say anymore, I'm still shaking."

So are a lot of other people at Oklahoma State. They are so mad they are shaking and can't see straight.

However, in the end, even with a travesty of the rules, Oklahoma State did need to play better. They must play better going forward or lose games without rule screw ups. Central Michigan played pretty good as an underdog in a hostile environment and benefitted from the worst officiating screw up since the Colorado-Missouri 5th down debacle.

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