Last year, Oklahoma State played a bunch of games decided in the final minutes and managed to win most of them.
This year, the Cowboys were not so fortunate in their first close contest, and it dealt a blow to their playoff hopes.
Mason Rudolph was called for intentional grounding on the Cowboys’ last offensive play Saturday, a penalty that should have been the final play of an Oklahoma State victory. Instead, Central Michigan was erroneously awarded an untimed down, and the Chippewas scored the game winner on a Hail Mary to steal a 30-27 victory.
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy did not realize officials got the call wrong until reporters informed him at his postgame news conference.
On Sunday, Gundy took some responsibility for the way the Cowboys tried to kill the final 4 seconds by having Rudolph throw the ball away on a fourth down, instead of taking the snap, running backward and going down. The clock stops on a change of possession so unless all 4 seconds had ticked away Central Michigan would have gotten the ball back in its own territory.
Instead, with the penalty, the Chippewas got one play from midfield. Even though they should not have.
“I’m disappointed in myself that I called a play that could have been interpreted as intentional grounding,” Gundy said in a statement. “That play has been in our playbook for 12 years now and intentional grounding and an untimed down after the last play of the game never even crossed my mind. Of course in hindsight, I wish I would have done it differently, but in the big picture, the game should have been over. While I’m disappointed in myself, I am also disappointed that we had 10 rules officials who didn’t properly apply the rule. I give credit to Central Michigan for coming up with a great play and executing it as well as they did.”
The Cowboys don’t have time to mope. Pittsburgh (2-0), coming off a victory against Penn State, comes to Stillwater next.
“We have another game on Saturday, and letting the end of the Central Michigan game linger into this week would not help our team in any way,” Gundy said. “I want this to be our final official comment on the end of the Central Michigan game, so we can close the book on it and move forward to Pittsburgh.”
Repercussions came down Sunday. The Mid-American Conference suspended the on-field officiating crew from the game for two weeks, and the Big 12 has suspended the two-person instant replay crew that failed to tell the MAC officials about their mistake.
Even then, the loss remains, and now the Cowboys have fallen from No. 22 to out of the Top 25.
“They’re hurting,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said after the game. “They’re mad. They’re upset. 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.”
Last season, the Cowboys reached the top five in the rankings and entered November as an unbeaten playoff contender. They beat Texas by three, Kansas State by two and West Virginia by seven before rolling past TCU, which was ranked No. 5 at the time. Oklahoma State struggled with Iowa State the next week, winning 35-31 in Ames, Iowa, before losing to Baylor, Oklahoma and Ole Miss to close the season.
The early loss leaves the Cowboys with little leeway the rest of this season. And the Big 12 has not distinguished itself, going 5-7 against FBS competition to start 2016.
The Cowboys remain positive.
“We are just trying to bounce back,” Oklahoma State cornerback Ashton Lampkin said. “Every team loses. It’s good if we lose early, that’s what I feel like. We lost a little early on some crazy play. We just trying to bounce back and go undefeated (the rest of the way). That’s only mindset we’ve got right now, to go undefeated.”