AMES, Iowa — Josh Stewart could feel the dream scenario getting closer as November marched on two years ago.
Returning to his hometown of New Orleans, a place he and his family had fled following Hurricane Katrina. Coming back with his Oklahoma State Cowboys, who would be playing for the national championship for the first time.
Then came that Friday night at Iowa State, where a shocking double-overtime loss squashed OSU's title chances.
Nearly two years later, as the No. 19 Cowboys prepare for their first trip back to Ames since that defeat, Stewart hasn't forgotten.
“Just all of that stuff was just building up in me and I was getting excited,” Stewart said. “For that (loss) to happen and that feeling after the game, the fans running around talking trash and saying rude things, there's just not a worse feeling in my football career.
“There's gonna be a lot of emotion going back up there for a lot of us. We're ready to play this game and get some payback.”
Earlier this week, Cowboy coach Mike Gundy tried to downplay the impact of the 2011 game, an event that will always be linked to the plane crash a day earlier that killed women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna.
Many of the Cowboys give a different story.
They know a win Saturday won't erase the heartbreak from two years ago. Nonetheless, it still serves as motivation.
“This is our chance to kind of get that sour taste out of our mouth, giving up those expectations that year,” linebacker Shaun Lewis said.
Stewart vividly remembers the events of that day.
Getting a call from his mother in the morning to make sure he was OK after she had heard about the plane crash. Players texting each other and gathering in the hotel hallway to search for answers, before quietly sitting in a team meeting as Gundy delivered the tragic news.
“It was just a whole bunch of stuff other than that football game that we had to focus on,” Stewart said. “… Our game wasn't canceled, so we had to somehow get our mindset ready for that.”