STILLWATER – Bullet IV got off to a rough start. The horse, who is the new heir to the throne, had nothing to do with Oklahoma State’s game against West Virginia.
But the mascot and its team had a similar performance.
Bullet III is retiring after 14 seasons. It has seen the entire Mike Gundy head coaching era at OSU, only to pass the reigns to the next in line. Its first two run throughs, though, were rough.
Bullet IV nearly clipped the wall near WVU’s sideline on its first run, and it had to get its ankle wrapped because its leg clipped another and caused a gash.
Then it didn’t appear for the remainder of the first half, even after OSU scored a second time.
OSU got off to a similar start. A three-turnover first half helped the Cowboys sulk into the locker room with a three-score deficit. The Cowboys were well on their way to a third consecutive defeat.
Then halftime came.
After a flurry of adjustments, defensive stands and brilliant playmaking from quarterback Taylor Cornelius, OSU clawed its way to a 45-41 upset against the No. 9 Mountaineers. Cornelius’ masterful performance comes after one of his better performances of the season in Bedlam, yet he topped it against WVU.
“(Resiliency) has been there all year,” Cornelius said. “We just made plays.”
Cornelius tallied two interceptions in the first half, and Tylan Wallace also added a fumble. Yet the Mountaineers managed only 10 points from those three turnovers. It was running back Kennedy McKoy who gashed OSU’s defense.
McKoy rushed for 131 yards and two scores in the first half, helping the Mountaineers (8-2 overall, 6-2 Big 12) mount a 31-14 advantage heading to halftime. The dejected Cowboys themselves had to go in and find an adjustment.
“We got rid of what we were doing, revamped it, went to four wides, ran six or seven base plays and then we’ll roll with it and play fast,” Gundy said. “…We kind of settled in with what we needed to do.”
Only 2:35 into the second half, Cornelius found Chuba Hubbard on a 1-yard pass for a score. His third scoring toss brought the score to within 10. Then kicker Matt Ammendola, who came into the game missing five of his past seven field-goal attempts, knocked in a 20 yarder to make it a one-score game.
OSU’s defense dominated in the third quarter. Malcolm Rodriguez stripped Grier in the red zone on a third-and-1, and Brock Martin recovered. The next time WVU touched the ball, the Cowboy defense forced a three-and-out.
Then Dillon Stoner tried to make a play.
The redshirt sophomore from Jenks tried to field the bouncing punt and didn’t maintain possession. The Mountaineers got control at OSU’s 18, and were in prime position to make it a two-score game.
They did just that, but it was on a field goal after OSU’s defense again forced a three-and-out.
“We are doing everything we can to train (players) to compete every day, one play at a time, for the whole entire game and you saw that tonight” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said. “They didn’t go down ever.
“We just kept fighting.”
Bullet IV came back in the second half. After the first score, its sprint wasn’t as tight as the veteran it was replacing but manageable. More controlled and methodical. Similar to the Cowboys’ approach in the second half.
The Mountaineers responded to the Cowboy score with one of their own. Grier rushed for 6 yards on fourth-and-goal to put WVU up 10 with 7:37 remaining. It was WVU’s final points.
Not quite three minutes of game time later, Cornelius scored his lone rushing score on the day, a 9-yard keeper on third-and-4. The defense forced another stop, and a false start on star receiver David Sills forced the Mountaineers to punt after they lined up to go for it on fourth down.
Then the fifth-year redshirt senior had his moment on Senior Day. After rushes of 17 and 12 yards put OSU (6-5, 3-5) in WVU territory, Hubbard rattled off gains of 23 and 12 on the ground to get to the Mountaineer 11.
The next play, Wallace made up for his couple drops and fumble, catching his second touchdown of the game and giving OSU the lead. But 42 seconds remained on the clock. The opposing team, and its Heisman candidate, had a chance to win.
“I knew we had this, for sure,” Wallace said.
After five plays, WVU had worked its way to the OSU 14. The Mountaineers used their final two timeouts and came out in a five wideout set.
Knowles said he wanted to blitz six defenders and play a zero coverage. Only five went after Grier, but it was enough to flush him from the pocket.
Grier rolled left and threw toward Sills in the back of the end zone. From his hip pocket, cornerback A.J. Green, who Sills had beaten earlier in the game for a score, reached his arm out and deflected the ball to the turf.
“I saw the ball in the air and didn’t want to take any chances with trying to get a pick or anything, so I just said, ‘Get out of here,’” Green said. “And I knocked it down.”
The Cowboys had beaten their second top-10 opponent at Boone Pickens Stadium this season. The win also secured the Cowboys a bowl berth no matter the outcome of their season finale next Saturday in Fort Worth against TCU.
For the 13th time in Gundy’s 14 seasons as OSU’s coach, they will make a bowl game. Thanks to the heroics of a redshirt senior many doubted just two hours before he led OSU on a game-winning drive. Thanks to a defense which held one of the nation’s top offenses to 10 second half points.
Cornelius finished with six total touchdowns, 338 yards passing and 106 rushing. Hubbard had 134 yards in Justice Hill’s absence, who missed the game because of bruised ribs. Stoner topped the 100-yard receiving mark for the third time in his career, as he tallied 127 yards on nine catches.
But the halftime changes on both sides are what slowed the game down for OSU and settled everyone in.
“(WVU) played considerably different than what they played other people,” Gundy said. “And so we had to make adjustments and go from there.”
Bullet III and IV had a changing of the guard ceremony, so to speak, at halftime. When the torch was officially passed to Bullet IV, it has a successful second half and closed strong. A lot like the team it comes out of the tunnel for.