Strong finish

Oklahoma State may not be in the position it had hoped to be in before the Oklahoma game, but OSU is 9-3 with a shot at the Cotton Bowl.

WACO, Texas -- As Oklahoma State was closing in on the finish of their third season under head coach Les Miles it was apparent that their first goal was out of the question. A November 1 loss at Oklahoma to the unbeaten Sooners ended the Cowboys chase for the Big 12 South Division title. The next week Texas came to Stillwater and with miniature bags of Tostitos covering the seats of Boone Pickens Stadium and representatives of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl watching in person a 16-14 halftime lead for the Cowboys evolved into  a second half Longhorn rout at 55-16 and now a BCS bowl was out of the question. Goals seemed to be passing through the Cowboys grasp on a weekly basis. There were still two left on the board for the Cowboys, a nine win regular season (first since 1988) and a possible berth in the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma State had not been to an established New Year's Day bowl game since 1946.


            Not only a beaten team but a beat up one as well, the Cowboys recovered with a second half surge of their own to blitz Kansas 44-21. Now on the final Saturday of the regular season the Cowboys had their remaining goals and their character tested by improved upstart Baylor. Leading 21-14 at halftime, the Cowboys came out with the ball to start the second half and moved the ball right down the field only to stall and need Luke Phillips to navigate a 26-yard field goal into a wicked wind for a 24-14 lead. Baylor moved down for a field goal try of their own only to bang it off the upright and no good. Then after a three and out by the Cowboy offense Baylor took over with great field position at the O-State 43. Eight plays later Jonathan Evans jumped over from the one and Baylor had closed the game to 24-21.


            In jeopardy was the nine win season, the Cotton Bowl, and any perception that the Cowboys had moved forward from last season's Houston Bowl breakthrough campaign. With a total of eight regular starters out with injuries, it was a real gut check. The Cowboys could roll over and let the improved Bears get their second Big 12 victory for the first time since the conference began in 1996.


            It really speaks to the character of this football team in my opinion," said head coach Les Miles. "This was not set up for us to have a nice easy victory against a good football team. It was a windy day that took some of the things away from us that we like to do in the passing game. We had to move the ball on the ground for the most part and this defense is set up to stack the box and stop the run. Our defense was banged up and we had to mix and match. We didn't have Darrent Williams with us. It was not set up for us but we actually got the job done. I have to credit the character of this football team. They looked at each other and said this thing is not going to get away from us and then took it down the field and we're going to stop them. We pretty much did."


            "The coaches told us that they were a pretty good team and that we were going to have to come out and play," said tight end Billy Bajema, who finished with four receptions including one for a touchdown. It came to the point where we had to come up with a drive, go down and score some points, and secure the thing."


            Miles' team may not have come out totally fired up to play, but when challenged this team did answer. Thanks primarily to Vernand Morency, the one-time third team tailback, the Cowboys started moving with a first down. Then Josh Fields launched a pass down the sideline and backup wide receiver John Wohglemuth made a circus catch for long gain. The catch was so good that few fans noticed the penalty flag back at the line of scrimmage. The holding penalty made it first and 20 back at the OSU 40. Morency went off right tackle for 19-yards, and then Fields went back down the middle of the field to Rashaun Woods who was pushed out at the 11 for a 30-yard gain. A few plays later one of the emerging stars of this Cowboy team Shawn Willis bulled in for a two-yard touchdown. The Cowboys led 31-21.


            "Shawn Willis really played well," said Miles.


            The next possession the Cowboys got their chance at good field position starting from the Baylor 46. Morency, who went back to back 200-yard plus games by rushed for 227-yards on 32 carries, covered 40 of the yards including the burst through a huge hole opened by right guard Sammy Mayes and right tackle Kellen Davis that went 35-yards for the touchdown.


            "I guess I just have to say that we've got an offense that is very focussed right now," said Morency, who almost always deflects credit for his performance. "We've got our swagger back. We didn't care what happened. We were just going to throw it back at em."


            While the offense was busting loose to a 38-21 advantage that would be the final score, the defense played their best football with the pressure on as they held Baylor to 75-yards in the quarter and most of that was late after the verdict had been decided. Linebacker Paul Duren had one of the biggest plays as he sacked Baylor quarterback Shawn Bell for a five-yard loss on a third and four play to get the ball back for the Cowboys second fourth quarter scoring drive.


            "It was pretty much an all out blitz with the linebackers and we crossed gaps and it opened up," said Duren of the sack. "I had to take on a tailback and got him out of the way and got the sack.  We knew with senior day that they were going to come out firing at us. I thought we gave up too many yards, but when we had to we came up with the plays like we usually do."


            "We just kept our composure and it was a finish type deal," added safety Vernon Grant. "The coaches told us we needed to come through and count nine wins. It was just like you had to take it upon yourself to go out and play every play like it was your last play."


            A season has a number of defining moments. Tatum Bell's second half fumble in the opener at Nebraska leading to a Nebraska winning score. Rashaun Woods record setting seventh touchdown catch at SMU. Kicker Luke Phillips run with an over the shoulder toss by holder Sky Rylant leading to a game deciding touchdown against Kansas State. John Holland's interception in the final minute that cinched the win in the marathon offensive battle with Texas Tech. There were more negative definitions against Oklahoma and Texas, but the response in Waco will need to be remembered. Wins over Baylor are rarely treasured or cherished. The Bears are the cellar dweller of the South, but ask Colorado where their season might be had they survived their trip to Floyd Casey Stadium.


            Oklahoma State fans have struggled with the redefining of goals just as the Cowboy team has, but the bottom line is the Cowboys are 9-3. They have taken strong positive steps this season. They have developed, thanks in part to the rash of late season injuries, into a deeper more resilient team. The waiting game begins as fans, players, coaches alike have to wait for the bowl scenario to be finalized. The Cowboys will take what they get, but the perseverance through this season, especially in the final regular season game, deserves the touch, the feel of cotton.

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