STILLWATER – First, momentum turned on Clint Chelf. A 17-point OSU lead had withered to four.
Then West Virginia's defense, such as it is, tired of punching bag status, came after Chelf with blitz after blitz.
Tough spot for a quarterback in his starting debut. But no fears. Chelf had already defeated mightier foes than momentum and rushing linebackers. Disappointment and impatience and discouragement.
Add West Virginia to the list. Chelf carved out his place in Cowboy lore Saturday, leading OSU to a 55-34 rout of the Mountaineers at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Amazingly, the Cowboys now have three quarterbacks with Big 12 wins this year. But as rousing as were the stories of true freshman Wes Lunt and hearty redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh, they can't match the tale of Chelf, the third-team quarterback from nearby Enid who got a day in the sun he had no reason to think would every come.
“I'm very happy he decided to stay with us,” Mike Gundy said. “It's not been easy for him this season.”
Chelf has admitted he considered transferring after being designated third team in May. But he stayed the course, and with Lunt and Walsh banged up – dressed and available to play, but limited in practice time – Chelf took over the Cowboy offense and played superb. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns. Chelf's lone interception was only partially his fault; his strike to Charlie Moore was in traffic but on target before bouncing off Moore's hands.
How many major college teams ever have sported three quarterbacks each with a conference win?
And here's how good Chelf was. Even if Lunt and Walsh are available next week against Texas Tech, Chelf has to be in the discussion to keep the job.
“Chelf is a fighter,” said flanker Josh Stewart, who had 13 catches for 172 yards. “We're happy to have him as our quarterback. There's nobody better than him right now. We just know that with Chelf at quarterback, we're pretty good right now.”
OSU coaches will stay mum, of course, but they were quick to admit how happy the Chelf saga made them.
“I'm so happy for him,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. “That's why you do it. We're in this game for the guys you coach.
“When guys stay here as long as he has and work as hard as he has, you just hope that it works out for him like it did. It's just a tribute to him.”
Chelf looked good in the second half the previous week against Kansas State – “That half gave me a lot of confidence,” he said – but Monken took it slow with Chelf against West Virginia.
Through the first 24 minutes, Chelf threw only seven passes, and four of them were safe screens or swings.
“We wanted to try to get his feet under him and get him going,” Gundy said. “If we would have known what we know now, we probably would have opened up the game a little differently. We wanted to get him comfortable.”
Late first quarter, Chelf hit Stewart with a 21-yard touchdown pass on a slant pattern that give OSU a 14-0 lead. Late second quarter, slot receiver Blake Jackson busted open down the middle, and Chelf hit him for an easy 48-yard TD pass.
After that, Chelf's shackles came off.
When the Mountaineers pulled within 38-34, Chelf took OSU on a third quarter field-goal drive that included a variety of downfield throws.
Then to open the fourth quarter, with OSU at its 20-yard line, West Virginia sent the house. The Mountaineers blitzed Chelf on virtually every down of an eight-play drive, seven of them passes, but Chelf stood tall. He hit Stewart for 13 yards on a rollout, Austin Hays for 36 yards on a perfect-strike streak pattern and finally Stewart on an out route that the waterbug turned into a 20-yard touchdown. OSU led 48-34, and with the Cowboy defense in the process of four straight stops in the fourth quarter, this game was over.
“They started to heat up, for sure,” Chelf said of West Virginia's pressure, but like all savvy quarterbacks, he credited his line. “With all the blitzes, they held up as good as they could.”
In turn, Chelf's teammates credited him.
“Clint's one of those guys, he never gave up,” said linebacker Caleb Levy. “It would have been easy for the guy to pack it up, but that wasn't Clint's mindset. His opportunity came, and he took full advantage of it.
“We have three awesome quarterbacks.”
Don't know about that just yet. But this we know. Against West Virginia, one of those quarterbacks had an awesome day, in every sense of the word.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.