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December 30, 2010

Eleven Heaven: OSU beats Arizona

SAN ANTONIO - Football, like any other sport, is a game where momentum swings make all the difference.

So what happens when one team gets three nice momentum-style breaks in the first few minutes of a ballgame?

Oklahoma State 36, Arizona 10, that's what.

In a game that never had much doubt to it, the Cowboys (11-2) took advantage in the early going and managed to keep the Wildcats (7-6) at bay all the way. Because of that, the Pokes were able to finally break a San Antonio jinx that covered two previous Alamo Bowl appearances and a Final Four run.

And to top off the sundae of a bowl win, a cherry of 11 wins in one season - an accomplishment never reached in Orange Country.

"Our goal is to have an opportunity to win every game we play and we fell short a couple times this year, but for these seniors to win 11 games means a lot," said head coach Mike Gundy. "They will always have a special place in my heart and our coaching staff's heart because those guys have paid the price. Nobody gave them a chance and they won 11 games."

A crowd of 57,593 looked on as the Pokes jumped out to an early lead primarily because of three key plays: 1. A muffed punt by Arizona's David Douglas, leading to a Cowboy score by ; 2. A nice defensive stand after a 62-yard Wildcat kickoff return; 3. A 71-yard pass to Justin Blackmon.

Those moments helped to build OSU a 14-0 advantage by the 8:46 mark in the first quarter. By the end of the first, it was 17-7 Cowboys. By half, 23-7. Those early motivation shifters gave firm control of this game to the Cowboys. And, while they didn't run away and hide, they did slowly pull away, as if the Wildcats got stuck in quicksand and slowly sank downward.

The defense had a lot to do with that. While the Wildcats actually had more total offense in the game (370 vs. 312), the Cowboy defenders made key stops and exacted a fair amount of pressure on quarterback Nick Foles, who tossed three interceptions and was sacked five times.

"You get the pressure on the quarterback," Ugo Chinasa said, "he thinks about the pass rush instead of the receivers running their routes so you confuse him a lot and then you force turnovers."

One of those turnovers was an interception nabbed by Markelle Martin, who cut in front of a Wildcat, leapt up, made the catch and ran 62 yards for the pick six. That put the Pokes up 16 at halftime.

"That route actually gave us problems during the week just trying to plan for it," said Martin, who won defensive player of the game honors. "Our coaches trusted that our safeties could make the play. I just broke it. We had good pressure from the D-line. It was kind of like a dream."

The bowl's offensive player of the game, Blackmon, had an amazing night. He reeled in nine catches for 117 yards and two scores. His night gave him sole control over an NCAA record - most consecutive games with at least 100 yards receiving and one touchdown. He had the mark won in the third quarter.

His night was not without some controversy, however. One his first score of the game - a 71-yard connection from Brandon Weeden - he pulled short of the end zone and ran across the field before finally going in for the score. Some viewed it as classless, but Blackmon said he was just having fun.

"I mean, you know, it was a big play," he said. "It was a great play called by (Dana) Holgorsen. I think it changed momentum, gave us a lot of spark as far as offense. Kind of made us want to come out, get it more. I think it gave us a lot of momentum.

"I just went out there having fun. You know, it's a bowl game. We practiced three weeks with our own team. I was just happy to be out there with another color jersey lined up across from us. I wanted to have a little fun. That's all it was."

His coach, though he didn't see it happen live, had another theory.

"I'm for him doing more of that for us. I like touchdowns. So the one thing, we don't taunt players. I don't like to taunt. He's just cutting across the field, having a little fun, proving his ankle was back to normal."

Blackmon's night was one for the record books, as previously mentioned. One non-Oklahoma media member asked Weeden (25-of-41, 240 yards, two touchdowns) if this was just another typical performance for the Ardmore product.

"Yeah, absolutely, if not more," he said. "He's a special player. I think he kind of got mad at me a minute because I wasn't throwing the ball early on. He said throw me the daggum ball. I was like, OK, we'll see what happens. I think the next play we threw the bomb. He's just a competitor; he's a smart football player."

Now the Cowboys look ahead to an offseason where the quest to find a new offensive coordinator begins, as well as wondering just what Blackmon and Weeden plan to do with their football futures. That will all come together in time. For now, the team, coaches and fans can enjoy what is - numerically, at least - the best season in school history.

"I couldn't be more proud for the seniors, for the football team and for Oklahoma State," Gundy said. "Winning 11 games is very difficult. It's not easy. I'm very proud of them."


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