STILLWATER — Caleb Lavey came around the edge and met Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell face-to-face, in clear position to make the game-saving tackle inside the 10 on fourth down.
But the Oklahoma State middle linebacker went too low, allowing Bell to charge his way into the end zone for the tying score in the waning seconds of regulation of Bedlam last season. The Sooners went on to win 51-48 in overtime.
“I lost my feet, and he just kind of jumped right over me and was able to run right by me,” Lavey said. “… I had the chance to end the game there, and I didn't. It's something that I take responsibility for.”
Lavey can easily recall the moment more than a year later because he thinks about it “all the time.”
Thinks about, not dwells on.
In fact, Lavey points to that specific play as an important teaching tool. Now he enters Bedlam 2013 as a contender for the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year Award. And his Cowboy squad can capture its second conference title in three seasons with a victory in Saturday's regular-season finale at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“I've used (that play) in a positive way to motivate me and help me develop as a player,” Lavey said.
Like being a better tackler. Lavey didn't dramatically alter any of his technique this season. But he's focused on wrapping up, rather than going for the big hit, and trusting that his teammates will flock to help him bring down the ball carrier.
Combine that small tweak with the experience and confidence that comes with 37 consecutive starts at a key position like middle linebacker, and Lavey has emerged as one of the Big 12's top defenders. He ranks in the top 10 in the conference in tackles (82), tackles for loss (11.5) and interceptions (four) while also adding 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
But Lavey is quick to point out that it also helps being a member of the Big 12's best defense.
“They see me, I make tackles, I have a few interceptions,” Lavey said. “But that's only because the other 10 guys are doing such a great job around me, whether it be the D-Linemen keeping (offensive) linemen off me or them pressuring the quarterback and the secondary doing a great job at locking up their guys and forcing the throws.”
Lavey has also become one of the Cowboys' biggest vocal leaders in practice and on the sideline, a role defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer challenged him to take on in the spring. He had already earned his teammates' respect, Spencer said, so use it.
“It takes (that job) off me,” Spencer said. “I can think about scheme things because I know him and a couple others — but especially him — he's the voice. And I don't have to worry about his message. His message is dead on-point with what needs to be said at the time.”
When asked if Lavey deserves consideration for the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Award, Spencer said he “wouldn't trade him for a soul.”
Spencer also gets passionate when recalling Lavey's missed tackle in Bedlam 2012. He reminds the questioner that the Sooners put together an extended drive — 17 plays, 86 yards, 6:18 off the clock, to be exact — and that several mistakes were made along the way. That's why he's never brought the play up to Lavey.
Yet Lavey expected the topic to come up heading into Bedlam. He's even watched the play a few times already this week.
And with the way that mistake has helped him grow, Lavey would love another shot to make a big Bedlam play in his final home game.
“If I have the moment again, I want to be able to make the tackle for my teammates,” Lavey said.
Oklahoma State middle linebacker Caleb Lavey, who has totaled 82 tackles (11.5 for loss) and four interceptions this season, will make his final push for the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Award in Saturday's Bedlam showdown.
Here are some contenders for that honor:
Justin Gilbert, cornerback, Oklahoma State
A Thorpe Award finalist and possibly the best cover corner in college football, Gilbert ranks fourth in the nation with six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) while also tallying five pass breakups and 37 tackles.
Jackson Jeffcoat, defensive end, Texas
Jeffcoat came off a serious pectoral injury to have a stout final season in Austin, ranking second in the league in sacks (10) and fumble recoveries (3) and third in tackles for loss (16). He is a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award given to the nation's best defensive end.
Jason Verrett, cornerback, TCU
The best player on another tough Horned Frog defense, Verrett leads the conference with 16 passes defended while adding 39 tackles (3.5 for loss), one sack and one forced fumble.