STILLWATER — The familiar setting provided an unfamiliar feel for Joe DeForest.
As Stillwater celebrated around him, toasting a huge late-season conference win, the long-time Cowboy assistant somberly slumped in the halls of Gallagher-Iba Arena, quietly answering the now-weekly questions about his struggling defense.
What happened to West Virginia in its 55-34 defeat at the hands of OSU, a fourth consecutive loss for a team once ranked in the top-10?
“We made some elementary mistakes out there today, which is hard to live with,” DeForsest responded.
What was the main reason?
“It's a combination of everything. It's discipline, execution, everything,” he quipped.
The expected questions kept rolling in. And DeForest's quick answers kept coming back out.
But as the media crowd began to dwindle, a more reflective DeForest glanced around at his surroundings.
The Fallen Cowboy statue to his right, Heritage Hall less than 10 feet behind him. Much of it felt common to DeForest, an 11-year OSU veteran adopted into the Stillwater community.
But the postgame feel, now preparing for a two-hour flight home instead of a two-minute drive, was a bit different.
“Yeah, it's strange,” DeForest said. “The visiting locker room. It's just a different place.”
From a personal standpoint, DeForest deemed it a special reunion. He saw family and friends, visited old places and chatted with former colleagues, reminiscing on his underrated role in the historical transition of OSU's football program.
“I didn't talk to Gundy, but the other assistants I did,” DeForest said. “It was great to see them, talk to them some and rekindle some old friendships.”
But from a professional standpoint, it probably couldn't have gone worse.
Human nature hints at DeForest's likely dream, a dominant shutout that shocked his former employers and silenced the Boone Pickens Stadium crowd.
But in reality, with the offensive talent on one side and the lack of it on the other, that was never possible.
Instead, DeForest's biggest impact on this game, ironically, may have come on the Cowboys side.
Justin Gilbert, the speedy return man who DeForest helped recruit and develop, took a West Virginia kick back to the house.
Quinn Sharp, the bionic-legged All-American who DeForest introduced to college football three years ago, booted punts and drilled kicks all afternoon.
“Yeah, I visited with (Sharp) before the game,” DeForest said. “He's a great kid. And a special player.”
DeForest didn't want to dwell on the loss, a life-goes-on kind of moment. The reunion was bittersweet, a “tough situation” but “ultimately just the next game on the schedule,” as he called it.
But as he grabbed the postgame dinner provided by team officials, readied for a quick bus ride and flight out of celebratory Stillwater, he took his last look around the familiar Gallagher-Iba halls and exhaled with one reflective breath.
“It really was great to see everybody,” DeForest said. “But it would have been great to see them and beat him.”