October 30, 2009

Texas! Fright! Are Cowboys due this weekend?

With the way the series with Texas has gone for Oklahoma State in recent years, it's beyond appropriate that the two would play on Halloween night.

The Longhorns have haunted the Cowboys lately, stealing W's as proficiently as the Clinton Administration did from keyboards. Some of the outcomes in the recent past have been downright spooky for OSU.

But the question must be asked: Is this the year, finally, when the Pokes rise from the grave and give the Horns more than just a giant scare? Or will UT overcome the trick yet again to enjoy the treats of victory?

We're about a day away from finding out.

In the new biggest game of 2009, OSU must try to overcome the painful memories of the past and finally corral the Longhorns. Are they up to it? The answer is yes. Aside from the loss to Houston, the Pokes have answered the bell and figured out different ways to win each week all the while doing so without some very important pieces to the team. And with the permanent loss of Dez Bryant, this team has yet another challenge: to win knowing there's no chance No. 1 will fly in to save the day.

No doubt, the NCAA handed down a ghoulish decision, but that must be put behind them, just as the recent decisions against Texas must be buried as well.

That will take a lot of grave-digging to make room for all that. But this just might be the year. Hey, OSU is due, right?


Bueller, Bueller?

It might not be pretty reading, those aforementioned games between OSU and UT must be mentioned because they have occurred as the program has grown and adversity can make you better in the long run. And that long run could end tomorrow.

And while the recent madness has its roots in the 2002 game in Austin - where OSU put together a 99-yard drive in the final minutes of the game but missed a two-point conversion to lose, 17-15 - the real zaniness began in 2003.

It was a cold November night. OSU was 7-2 and ranked 21st. The game got off to a solid start for the Pokes, taking a slim 16-14 lead into halftime. Then Vince Young and the 11th-ranked Horns woke up, scoring 41 unanswered points and cruising to a 55-16 win.

Thought that was bad? The 2004 match up was much more painful. In what I like to call "The Twilight Zone Game," OSU opened up a giant second quarter, building up a 35-7 lead just before halftime.

Key term there? "Just before halftime."

In a game that seemed to be totally in control of the Cowboys, everything flipped like a coin as the second quarter expired. UT engineered a nine play, 80-yard drive and scored a touchdown with only three ticks left to cut the score to 35-14. And suddenly, the Cowboys giant lead seemed ever-so-precarious. That's when the scary vibe hit the Poke fans that made the trip south. Earlier thoughts of cruising to victory seemed long gone, even though OSU still had a nice advantage. Heck, that drive might have prompted the head coach at the time to take a phone call in the locker room and make an escape plan. Who knows?

What we do know is that last drive ended up being the motivational boost Texas needed, as the Horns came out in the second half and scored touchdown after touchdown after touchdown after touchdown after touchdown after touchdown - six unanswered in all, confirming the worst fears of OSU fans about that "precarious lead." Final: Texas 56, OSU 35. How is that even possible?

That game was painful because OSU was pretty good that year and built up a huge lead on the road. The next year, not many were expecting much from the Cowboys. It was the first year of Mike Gundy as head coach and the cupboard was thin. Even so, OSU went up big on the Horns again in the first half, this time taking a 28-12 lead into intermission. But yet again, UT comes out in the third quarter and turns the thing around. This time, however, Mack Brown took mercy by only allowing his crew to score five unanswered touchdowns - a 47-28 final.

But as any annoying pitchman on TV would scream: "But wait, there's more!"

In 2007, the Cowboys built up another large first-half lead, going up 28-14. But in the third quarter, Texas…

…didn't score a point! What a change from the tired script this series was becoming at the time. In fact, OSU added to the score, going up 35-14 into the fourth quarter, where…

…everything fell apart. Texas scores three TDs and a boots a 40-yard field goal as time expires to eek out a 38-35 win.

The very next year, even though it was on the road, seemed like a great chance for OSU to finally get one over the Horns. While UT was top-ranked, the Cowboys were No. 7 and had enough offense to get the win. And unlike some of the others, this game featured OSU trailing early, down 21-7 before closing it to 21-14 at half. Texas jumped out in the third and scored first, reclaiming a 14-point advantage. But that margin fell to only four points with 12:58 to go, when OSU tacked on a field goal. A giant Cowboy stop on fourth down gave the ball to OSU at the 1-yard-line with only 33 seconds left, but the ensuing drive died at midfield with an incomplete pass.

Which leads us up to tomorrow night. This recent string of games with Texas has been equal parts exciting, maddening, glorious and gut-wrenching. Yes, OSU wound up losing every single one of them. That's been a painful thing to deal with.

But maybe, just maybe, Halloween night is where all the ghosts of series past come back to finally haunt the other team in orange.

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