STILLWATER — The Oklahoma State offense had suddenly come to life, zipping down the field for the go-ahead score against Oklahoma with fewer than two minutes remaining.
That put the Cowboys in, presumably, a spectacular spot. A defense that had been so reliable and remarkable all season long — and had not given up an offensive touchdown Saturday — simply needed to keep the Sooners out of the end zone.
OSU couldn't get that final stop. A 7-yard touchdown pass from Blake Bell to Jalen Saunders with 19 seconds left proved to be the decisive score in a wild and wacky 33-24 Bedlam victory for the Sooners, which also dashed the No. 6 Cowboys' Big 12 title hopes and will keep them out of a BCS bowl game.
“There were a lot of drives of the games that they didn't (score) and we had a lot of great stops,” Cowboy defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “And that's what hurts so bad, when you have a chance to make that stop and we didn't.
“Yeah, that tears you up.”
With the time crunch, the 17th-ranked Sooners (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) were forced into an all-passing situation on a drive that started from their own 34. Spencer said the Cowboys (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) tried to mix up their looks, sending pressure on some plays and dropping more guys into coverage on others.
But Bell, the one-time starter who was the Sooners' third quarterback used Saturday, delivered. He completed 5-of-8 throws, starting the drive with two straight strikes to Sterling Shepard for nine and 18 yards, respectively, and later connecting with Saunders off a scramble for 13 yards and safety valve Brennan Clay for 10 yards.
Then came the winning toss floated to the corner to Saunders, who had beaten safety Lyndell Johnson on the play.
“The quarterback made some good plays, and there were some good catches that moved the ball down the field,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said. “Our defense was tremendous all year, and you play the percentages based on what we've done all year.
“In most cases we would have been able to get that stop.”
For a moment, the Cowboys — and their supporters braving the elements on a day where temperatures hovered in the teens and 20s — thought they had made that stop to clinch the victory.
Boone Pickens Stadium exploded when cornerback Justin Gilbert leapt into the air and corralled a ball intended for Lacoltan Bester and fell to the turf near the 10-yard line, but the play was ruled an incomplete pass because he did not hold onto the ball all the way to the ground and through the end of the play.
“I thought we had it,” offensive lineman Brandon Webb said. “I was ready to go out on the field and take a knee. I ran all the way down there and the ref waved it off.”
Until that final drive, OSU's defense had forced eight Sooner punts and allowed fewer than 300 yards of total offense. The Cowboys snagged just one takeaway but stiffened in the red zone, as OU needed a fake field goal to get into the end zone in the third quarter.
And after watching the offense snag back the lead late in the fourth, linebacker Caleb Lavey said he and his mates were excited. They welcomed the pressure. They had performed in those types of situations before.
So the emotion after falling short was, as expected, mostly dejection.
“It's something I know a lot of these guys (wish) they could have back, including myself,” Lavey said. “But that's not gonna happen.”
It's a difficult final memory of the regular season for a unit that has largely been regarded as the best defense in the Big 12 this season, entering Saturday ranked in the top 25 in the nation in key categories like scoring defense, rushing defense, takeaways and interceptions while propelling OSU back into the top 10.
But on this day, against their Bedlam rival with a second conference title in three seasons on the line, the OSU defense couldn't finish.
“We can talk about it all we want, we can talk about how good we've been,” safety Daytawion Lowe said. “But it comes down to that we've got to make plays. At that time, we didn't make the plays to win the game, so it's disappointing.”