The way the OU-Texas Tech game ended left the Sooners feeling as if they had just been kicked in the gut, or maybe right between the legs would be more like it.
The Red Raiders' 23-21 win was like working all your life to finally get your Porsche only to park it in the garage and later that night find out that the car had been stolen. Of course, at least then you have insurance to get another Porsche, but the Sooners have no insurance for what happened to them in Lubbock, Texas.
In one of the most grossly officiated games ever seen by this reporter and many others, Texas Tech literally stole one from the Sooners on Saturday. Texas Tech didn't do anything wrong and, actually, the Red Raiders played their butts off and played an outstanding game. But even they can't look into a mirror after watching replays of the two key plays in the final 1:33 of that game without wondering what the officials were thinking?
The officiating was so bad that it ruins what was a great football game to watch. The game wasn't the most well-played game for either team this year, but in terms of determination, big plays, key moments, tense moments and just hold-your-breath type drama, this game had almost too much to handle.
For the Sooners, they feel like they have been robbed of a victory. Publicly, they will take the high road and say all the right things. They will congratulate Texas Tech and say that they should have made enough plays earlier in the game to not let the game come down to the final play in the game, which is true.
They will not blame the officials for the loss and, instead, credit Texas Tech for playing a great game. However, privately each and every coach is steaming about how the game ended and Saturday as they watched in amazement at the bazaar and unbelievable events at the end of the game unfolded in front of them.
I arrived on the sidelines just in time with about seven minutes still left in the game. OU had just scored on a Rhett Bomar to Malcolm Kelly 13-yard pass to draw the Sooners within 17-14. The Oklahoma sideline was alive.
During their four-game winning streak, Bomar and company had shown a knack for coming back or doing what is necessary to win the game. And the redshirt freshman admitted that he and the offense was confident they were going to get the job done.
"I think we have proven several times this season that we have the capability to move the ball when we need to," said Bomar following the game. "On offense, sometimes you just have to keep hammering people, and that is what we did today. At any time, I felt we could move the ball, and in the fourth quarter we finally started to make some plays. I never felt we were not going to move the ball and in the fourth quarter I have come to the point this season where I just feel we will do what we have to do to win the game."
After a short punt return, the Sooners took the ball over in great field position at their own 49. Watching the Oklahoma sideline, I had no doubts that they were going to score. Even on a fourth-and-two at the Tech 31, Bomar calmly hit Kejuan Jones for three-yards and a first down. Tech's Sylvester Brinkley then committed his third 15-yard penalty in the game, giving the Sooners a first down at the Tech 13 and the only question at that point was when the Sooners were going to score? Not, if they were going to score.
"Sure, we were conscience of the clock in that situation," said OU head coach Bob Stoops following the game. "We were moving the ball pretty well and gaining confidence that we were going to score. We were around two minutes left, or a little under it, and we had two timeouts left. That is one reason we ran the ball. We know that every time AD carries the ball he can score, but still you figure if you run the ball you might run or can manage the clock better. But we will take a touchdown anytime we can get it, and AD took it into the end zone and we are never going to be unhappy about that.
"We were aware of how much time was on the clock and we were trying to manage it," said offensive coordinator Chuck Long after the game. "We actually marched the ball down the field from about midfield, and at about three minutes on the clock we thought by using a running play on first down that we would get six or seven yards and use a few seconds on the clock. However, AD made a great run and we are going to take that every time."
Peterson, once again, proved what kind of stud he really is. He wasn't able to get the big run all day, but he kept pounding the ball into the Texas Tech defense. And when we scored his second touchdown, throwing defenders away from 13-yards out, he had carried the ball 29 times for a hard-fought 108 yards.
The Sooner bench was celebrating and AD was defiantly pumped coming off the field shouting, "What about that?" "How about that?"
"I was so happy to get into the end zone," said Peterson following the game. "This was such a tough game and every yard we got it seemed was so hard to get. Every play meant so much, and when I scored that second touchdown I thought that would do it for us. I was so excited coming of the field. I thought we had done it again. I thought we had come up with a big drive to the win the game for us like we had in the last several games. I guess this time it wasn't quite enough."
As it turned out it wasn't, but it should've been.
If any team has the capability to drive the ball the length of the field in a 1:33, it is Texas Tech. Passing the ball was second nature to the Red Raiders, so OU knew they were going to have their hands full. Still, after the Peterson touchdown the Sooners were confident.
However, Garrett Hartley kicked the ball out of bounds giving Tech the ball on the 35-yard line, which put a little fear into the Sooner sideline and just threw a little question into the air of what are we doing?
"That hurt us, that really did. But we are not going to pin the defeat on him," said Stoops from the Barry Switzer Center on Sunday. "We knew the wind was blowing at him and in that direction, but we didn't take it into account obviously. They would have gotten decent field position, but I don't know if they would have got it to the 35 (yard line). So, you are hoping to steal five to 10 yards there and six to 10 seconds off the clock. Garrett didn't do it on purpose. He kicked a great kick on the one before into the end wind and he was just two yards off of that one."
That kick gave the Red Raiders some hope and some life. If they were starting at their own 20, or inside their own 20, going the distance in the middle of the field would have looked much tougher to them. But as it was, the Red Raiders felt they had a chance.
"We took over in pretty good field position and got a break on the kickoff," said Texas Tech senior quarterback Cody Hodges following the game. "We got a fresh start at the 35-yard line and I don't know to explain it, but the end zone didn't seem that far away for us. The ball was in pretty good field position in the middle of the field and now all we had to do was execute. Ninety-three seconds is a lot of time for us. That is too much time for us not to score."
At that point, OU was looking forward to the challenge.
"Man, that is what you come to Oklahoma for — to play in big situations like that," said junior middle linebacker Zach Latimer following the game. "We were fighting so hard in the game and on the last drive we were fighting so hard that I was just knew we were going to keep them out of the end zone."
Tech did a great job moving the ball on the Sooners, as Hodges was magnificent avoiding the rush, keeping plays alive and finding receivers over the middle on crossing routes or on out-routes so that on each pass the Tech receivers would get out of bounds. Finally, the Sooner defense stiffened and Hodges and the Red Raiders were faced with a fourth-and three at the Oklahoma 26-yard line.
On that play it appeared that the Sooners had come up with a big play to stop Texas Tech in their tracks. However, this would be the first of three calls that has baffled both local and national media from coast-to-coast and has been the talk of all college football fans who had a chance see what happened.
It appeard to me that Rufus Alexander or Latimer tipped Hodges' pass straight up in the air. I was on the sideline looking at the play from about three yards from behind, and from my perspective it looked like Darien Williams skied high for the ball and grabbed it first with Tech receiver Danny Amendola also going up for the ball a grabbing just after Williams. As the two came down to the ground, Amendola did a better job of selling that he had the ball, and even Williams says his opponent came up with the pigskin.
"I think he actually came out with the ball, at least that is what the official ruled," said Williams following the game. "I really don't know, but the way it turned out he must have had the ball."
From my perspective, Williams had it first and Amendola reached in and looked for the tie. On a play such as that in football, the tie goes to the offense. But in this case, was it really a tie? The officials ruled it as such, but OU wasn't so sure.
However, OU still felt they were in good shape, because when Williams and Amendola came down to the field they landed a good yard or so behind the line of scrimmage. The Sooner sideline erupted in glee, because from their perspective even if the Red Raiders caught the ball they were a yard short of the first down. I was looking at it first-hand and Amendola landed on the 24-yard line.
The Oklahoma players and coaches were the only ones that thought that way. Every media member, fan and field official standing besides me on the sideline looked out on that field and saw that the two players landing behind the line of scrimmage. On the Texas Tech broadcast, the color commentator said that it didn't matter that Amendola caught the ball because he is a yard short of a first down.
The Sooner sideline was buzzing, players were jumping up and down and there was pure excitement among the Sooner faithful until Randy Christal's Big 12 officiating crew spotted the football.
As soon as the officials spotted the ball, Oklahoma knew they had been had. It was so close that when you first eye-balled it, you said they still didn't make it, they still didn't make it. That is what Bob Stoops said at first, along with several OU players. However, it was a calm Brent Venables that got even with the ball and immediately screamed to his defense to get focused because they had the first down. Despite many Sooners around him saying they didn't get it, Venables was calling over Latimer to set up the next defense.
"I looked at it and I could see they spotted the ball right at the yard marker," said Venables following the game. "I don't know how or why, and at that time I didn't have time to worry about it. I was going to play with cards that I was dealt. I don't have any idea if they spotted the ball right or not, but I know where they spotted the ball they put it right on the yard marker."
As they stretched the chain you still wondered if Tech had the first down, but when they finally placed the end of the chain next to the football it was exactly 10 yards, or with this officiating crew close enough.
More than the final play on the goal line, this is the play privately that infuriates Sooner players, coaches and officials. Everybody with a realistic eye can look at that play and tell that Amendola landed a good yard behind the yard marker. At the time, Tech officials and media felt that he had landed a yard behind the yard marker, but this officiating crew failed to see it. And to add insult to injury, the replay officials couldn't see it either. How can replay officials not get the call right when the whole world that watched replays of the call can see where the ball should be spotted? Can you say conspiracy here?
"It is the most unbelievable showing of bad officiating that I have ever seen," said WWLS Radio Legend and Sooners Illustrated columnist Al Eschbach following the game. "The whole world saw that Texas Tech didn't have the first down, but yet this officiating crew said they did. Something is not right there."
OU coaches can't comment on the officiating publicly and this reporter will never give them up as critics of the officials, but this plays bamboozles them all.
"I can't for the life of me figure out what the officials are seeing," said one OU coach, who will remain nameless to protect his pocketbook. "No matter how they really look at that play they are short of the first down. The Texas Tech player lands inside Darien, and because of that it is easy to see that there is no way he can have the first down. Even if they want to spot it where Darien lands, they don't have the first down. That is the most ridiculous call I have ever seen."
By less than an inch, what appeared to be a Sooner victory was now another chance for Texas Tech. Nevertheless, Oklahoma was ready and went right back to work on defense. OU still felt confident that they were going to win the game, but Hodges was up to the task hitting Amendola on a seam route for 18-yards down to the Sooner five-yard line.
"We are in a four across defense and we didn't jam the second receiver like we need to," said Stoops. "We jammed the inside guy in a great way, the third guy, but the second guy we didn't. Our inside safety is to wide, and instead of being inside of him they catch the ball and gets some yards."
"That play was as pivotal as any other play during that drive," said Venables. "If they don't get that chuck of yardage then they are throwing fades in the end zone or trying to come up with a 23-yard pass or something. Instead, they were right on our doorstep at the five."
Bad call No. 2 comes up on the very next play when Hodges throws a fade towards Joel Falani who had beat senior cornerback Chijioke Onyenegecha in the corner of the end zone. However, anybody watching the play can see that Falani is bobbling the ball. In fact, he never had possession of it and immediately Chijioke is crossing his arms to signal that the play was no good.
The replay official said they wanted to look at the play, but the fact the officials on the field didn't call this play immediately is a big question. Anybody that watches this play can see that Filani is bobbling the ball all the way up the tunnel. He never has control of this ball and certainly doesn't have control of it in the end zone. The OU coaches were so confident of it that on the Sooner sideline they were already getting ready for the next play.
On this one, the replay officials got it right. There is no way that was a touchdown, and they got that one right. The Sooners caught a break, but why they had to live or die with the replay official on this play shows again how incompetent the officials were in this game.
On the next play, Williams is called for holding, which it was one of the most intelligent holding penalties you will see a defensive player make. What is better — give up a touchdown or take a half the distance to the goal penalty?
"I thought it was the right thing to do," said Williams following the game. "I was playing outside man and he went outside, so I had no choice but to grab him."
With seven seconds left on the clock Tech was on the 2-yard line. Just enough time for two plays at best, well maybe three with the Texas Tech time-keeper. Senior Eric Bassey was inserted at safety to get a little better cover guy on the field and Bobby Jack Wright's plan workd as Bassey batted down the crossing route.
Four seconds are left now, and down to the last play. The Sooners guess right and design a blitz to stop the run.
"We just felt that they had tried most of their passes or their plays they use in their red zone and we had stopped them," said Venables. "The one thing they had not done was try to run the ball and we felt with Henderson that would be a good play for them."
OU decided to blitz and to fill every hole. Rufus Alexander hits the hole, defeats the blocker and delivers a blow to Henderson, who tries to spin a way. However, the blow from Alexander is enough to knock Henderson toward the ground. Henderson tries to keep his balance, but can't and falls to the ground with his back to the end zone. His legs, hips and fanny hit first, and as his back hits the ground he reaches back and extends the ball towards the goal line. He is down for a good two seconds before he reaches the ball back towards the end zone.
Alexander is immediately up and signaling that Henderson is down, and Onyenegecha is doing the same thing. The OU coaches are all screaming, "He didn't get in! He didn't get in!"
I am standing right behind side judge Scott Koch. I am right on the sideline on about the 2-yard line and I can see the play clearly. There is no question in my mind that the Sooners had held, and I am standing behind the official who doesn't move until basically the play is over. Henderson had already extended the ball across the goal line when Koch starts running in from the side toward the ball. I am thinking he is just going to spot the ball short of the goal line, but instead he runs in and looks over a couple of players, finds the ball over the end zone and calls touchdown.
Again, the radio announcers for Texas Tech called the true play saying that Henderson had fallen just short of a touchdown. But again, the Red Raider announcers and the Red Raiders themselves were bailed out by the Big 12 officiating crew signaling touchdown and causing an immediate celebration on the Texas Tech sideline.
I immediately look at the Sooners and they are jumping up and down screaming at the officials, and immediately the officials tell Stoops they are going to review the play. Still, Stoops is not happy. His guys are telling him from upstairs that Henderson didn't get in and he wants to Koch to tell him why he signaled touchdown. I don't think Coach Stoops ever got the right explanation, because after only 15 to 30 seconds the Red Raiders are celebrating despite the fact there was no announcement over the stadium sound system.
Why didn't the replay official take a longer time to really look that play over? Later that night in the Miami/Boston College game, the officials took close to five minutes to determine a call. So why did they take less than a minute here? Wasn't this an important play in an important game?
This question is even bigger with me now that I have had a chance to look at the play 100 times. Did the replay official have the same television pictures that looked at? I realize they have to work off of network broadcasting the game, while I have looked at pictures from several different sources. However, the only thing that the pictures that I looked at determined to me was that I was right when I first saw the play. Henderson was down on the Alexander hit before he reached the ball over the goal line, and every replay that I have seen since has proven me correct.
Alexander certainly didn't have any doubt.
"If you ask me I didn't think he was in, but if they were going to say he was in I guess he was in," said a stunned Alexander, who came off the team bus to talk to the media after the game. "Nobody was underneath him, because a lineman was trying to pull on me and I went underneath the lineman. He made a good play because he reached the ball over the goal line. We had three close calls on that whole last drive. Both teams were fighting hard and I guess they made more plays than we did."
So, why didn't the officials call it and why didn't the replay officials take a longer look at the play? The only real explanation that I have heard from the officials' standpoint comes from former OU Athletic Director and the current Associated Big 12 Director in charge of Football — Donnie Duncan.
Duncan told Al Eschbach that the evidence had to be conclusive before they can take a touchdown off the board, so I guess we can assume that the officials didn't see an angle on their replay pictures that show conclusive evidence that they should reverse the play.
The whole country can see evidence, but the game officials and the replay officials don't see the same thing? A day after, the more you watched certain plays the more questions about certain calls you have.
"There are several plays, and to me the biggest issue is the fourth down play," said Stoops. "Obviously, I see them different — the spot on the fourth down play and on the touchdown. Again, that is part of the game — spots and judgments and what they see. I am not going to sit here and whine about it or say that is the reason we lost. Bottom line is that they got the close calls and we didn't and they made more plays than we did."
I have never seen the Sooners as stunned after a game as they were yesterday. Sure, I have seen them hurt and upset after a tough loss, but yesterday this team was hurting. The pain on the faces of the players was tough to watch. Almost to a man, players came off the field either in tears or with looks of bewilderment on their faces.
To pour salt into the wound, many of the players who raced into the locker room following Taurean Henderson's controversial touchdown run had to come back out of the locker room to line up for the point after touchdown. This was actually Bob Stoops coaching right down the final play knowing that if Tech decided to kick the extra point and bobble the snap, his defense just might pick the ball up and run all the way to the other end to tie the game. Tech was too smart to let anything like that happen choosing to snap the ball to Hodges and take a kneee, but at least Coach Stoops was pulling out all the stops. But it was tough to watch the Sooners go into the locker room twice.
For three quarters the two teams exchanged blows and the Sooners could eem to get the advantage. OU did lead early 7-3, but they couldn't take advantage of the wind when they had it. Tech took a 10-7 lead into the half time locker room and with 14:35 remaining in the game, the Red Raiders had extended their lead to 17-7.
Up until that point, the Sooners had not done anything they needed to do to win the game. Going into the game, one of Oklahoma's keys was to to hold Henderson in check, but after three quarters he was over the 100-yard mark in rushing for the fourth time this season with 104 yards.
Oklahoma also felt they needed to control the football and get a great game out of quarterback Rhett Bomar. Well, OU was running the clock and actually had the edge by three minutes at this point, but Bomar had only hit 7 of his 16 passes for 64 yards. With the passing game struggling, the Sooners turned to star running back Adrian Peterson, but the Red Raiders were battling him inch for inch holding him to 56 yards after three quarters.
Through three quarters, the Sooners had only 163 yards of total offense and were scuffling to find something that worked, while the defense was bending but managing to not break for most of the game. The Red Raiders' high-powered offense only had 272 yards of total offense through three quarters, but you didn't get the feeling that they going to score a bunch of points.
The Sooners were battling, but you wondered if they could get over the hump. The defense was hanging in there, but the offense couldn't get anything going until the fourth quarter, when the tempo picked up and they started to bang out some yards.
"Maybe it was a sense of urgency or something, I don't know," said OU offensive coordinator Chuck Long following the game. "We struggled again in the third quarter, and we really need to go back and look at the film and try to get a handle why that is happening to us. Just the fact we hung in there and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, in an adverse situation on the road, is something that I am really proud of."
By the time they came out of the locker room, every single OU coach had already heard from family members or friends telling them that the replays showed they had been hosed over pretty good. For the most part, every single coach was either bummed out or mad when he came out of the locker room. It doesn't feel good when you get hosed, and then to make matters worse you have a bunch of family and friends calling you to tell you that you have been robbed.
"This feels like somebody just came and kicked me right in the gut," said OU Secondary coach Bobby Jack Wright. "This is just a terrible feeling, but we need to get over it in a hurry because we need to go get Oklahoma State."
Coming out of the locker room many of the Sooners were so upset that they really didn't want to talk to the media, but to their credit they sucked it up and did their best to talk. OU always loses with class, and this game was no exception. Rhett Bomar, Adrian Peterson, J.D. Runnels, Dusty Dvoracek and many others all came out to talk to the media, when in reality they wanted to head straight to the bus.
It was very tough to watch senior Travis Wilson come out of the locker room. Early in the third quarter ,Wilson's injured ankle and foot finally gave way ending his season. Wilson came out of locker room with a towel over his head and with his mother helping him up the ramp. Wilson will have surgery this week, but he knew then that his season was over. Wilson has been a great warrior for the Sooners, and you can bet he did not want to end his career hobbling up a visitor's ramp helped by his mother.
Freshman center Jon Cooper has a broken ankle and is expected to miss three months. In fact, the OU medical team believes that he will be back in time for spring football.
Coach Wright's secondary played well, holding Texas Tech to just 232 yards passing. In the first half, Coach Wright pulled starting strong safety Reggie Smith for junior Jason Carter and the move turned out to help the Sooners in the game.
"Reggie wasn't being aggressive enough. You can't play a safety that won't be aggressive against Texas Tech," said Wright. "He let them complete a pass right in front of him and he wasn't playing with confidence. So, we made a change and Jason played very well. Jason came up with the interception in the end zone and played a very smart game.
"I thought our corners played well. D.J (Wolfe) played very well and did a great job on those fade routes in the end zone. I thought Chijioke played well and Darien Williams had a good game back at free safety. Eric (Bassey) a great play in the end zone toward the end of the game. For the most part, we played pretty well in the secondary."
Stoops said Sunday that he had not talked to anybody from the Big 12 officiating office, ending speculation that the Big 12 had called him apologizing for how the game was called. That didn't happen, but coach Stoops said that he would send in a report to the Big 12 about the officiating. He said he does that every week. He did say that his report would take on a little more importance because of the circumstances surrounding the game.
The Sooner offense struggled once again in the third quarter. In a classic college football chess match, the Oklahoma offense sputtered. OU dropped three passes in the first three quarters ,and it seemed like the whole game the OU running backs were on the verge of breaking one. However, they weren't getting any big plays and they didn't take advantage of the wind.
"It was a good cat and mouse game to me," said Long after the game. "It was a heck of a football game from coaching standpoint. We came out running the ball with some good mix, and all of a sudden they started feeling that run a lot and they started to load the box. We had guys say that we can take our shots now and we took them. We didn't get all we wanted, but even if you have incompletions they start getting soft again, which allowed us in the fourth quarter to run the ball.
"They were thinking that we were down and they got soft in their coverage, giving us a chance to run the ball. So, we ran the ball more effectively in the fourth quarter. They did a nice job defending us, but we were setting a lot of things up for sometime in the second half. They made some good adjustments in the third quarter, but we re-adjusted ourselves late in the third quarter and came back and ended up having an excellent fourth quarter."
"I really like the fact that we kept our poise on the road, with no turnovers on the road," Long continued. "We are down by 10 points going into the fourth quarter, and you know about our youth as we are playing a young quarterback and freshman receivers, and we haven't been down before. We are behind going against the wind and we put two scores on the board in the fourth quarter. The poise that we displayed again with this group was impressive. I am so excited about this group, about what they can accomplish in the future and for the remainder of this year. They will be able to take with them into next year the successes they are having this year, and that is going to be invaluable to them."
The bottom line is that Oklahoma didn't get the key calls down the stretch and the officials appear to have pulled a fast one on the Sooners. Was there a conspiracy to keep OU out of the Cotton Bowl? I mean, Texas Tech does play in the Jones ‘SBC' Stadium and it is the ‘SBC' Cotton Bowl.
Did the SBC's get together to keep the Sooners from winning that game? With so many calls so questionable in a row to go against OU, when all the evidence appears to support the calls should have been for OU, I start to think about all kind of wild things.
Even on Tech's first touchdown, you have two calls that are questionable. Did Rufus Alexander really commit a face mask infraction? Many believe at worst it is a five-yard penalty, not a 15-yarder. On Tech's second touchdown, it was ruled that the Sooners pushed the receiver out of bounds and because of that he is allowed to come back into the field of play to catch his touchdown pass. Does OU push him out of bounds or did he get so physical trying to get open against the OU secondary that he took himself out of bounds?
Did Rufus really hit Hodges late along the sideline? If you look closely at the replay, Hodges has a foot in bounds when Rufus hits him. And as long as he is in play, Rufus can tear his head off.
We can go on and on, and I know Tech can complain about a few calls as well. Again, the bottom line is OU needs to get good enough where they don't leave games like this for chance. If Oklahoma had played a better game they would not have been in a position where they put the game into the hands of the officials. If OU had played smarter, better and with more passion they would be going to the Cotton Bowl instead of wondering if they will go to the Holliday Bowl or the Alamo Bowl.
As it is, the Oklahoma didn't play good enough and they didn't get the key calls either. So now we have a game that we can talk about forever just like the OU-Texas 15-15 tie in 1984 when Keith Stanberry was ruled out of bounds on a game-winning pass interception when he was in bounds by at least two feet.
In 2005, the Sooners have the same kind of feeling that they had in 1984, except the 1984 Sooners got the better end of the deal. They at least got a tie, while this year's group of Sooners go home smarting from a defeat.
Look out Oklahoma State. You will face a very mad Oklahoma team this weekend. The battle cry for the Sooners was, "Let's go get Oklahoma State." It should be a lot of fun in Norman on Saturday.
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