Photo provided by Central Michigan athletics
It’s not very often that Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has lost non-conference games in Stillwater.
The controversial loss that took place on this day five years ago however, was one that fans in neither Stillwater nor Mount Pleasant, Mich. will forget for a long time. Central Michigan stunned the Cowboys 30-27 on a Hail Mary throw and lateral for a touchdown on the game’s final play.
Setting the Stage
Oklahoma State was 1-0 and ranked No. 22 as it arrived at Boone Pickens Stadium on Sept. 10, 2016. It had been nearly seven years since the Cowboys lost a non-conference game at home.
Central Michigan was playing its first road game of the season after topping Presbyterian in the opener. Coming off a 7-6 season, the Chippewas had hung tough with Oklahoma State the year prior in Mount Pleasant before falling 24-13.
Controversy and the Game’s Final Play
For Oklahoma State, it wasn’t a performance that anyone was thrilled with, but it appeared the Cowboys would hold on. On 4th-and-13 with just four seconds to play, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph bled the clock before throwing the ball away, seemingly ending the game.
Officials however, called intentionally grounding and ruled that the game could not end on the penalty. After the game however, NCAA officials conceded that since the call results in a loss of down, it should have ended the contest.
Instead the Chippewas were given one final play that would ultimately decide the contest. Now, Central Michigan was no stranger to miraculous finishes. In the Bahams Bowl to close the 2014 season, it completed a Hail Mary and multiple laterals on the final play of regulation for a touchdown against Western Kentucky, but missed the winning 2-point conversion attempt.
Against Oklahoma State, a 2-point try would be unnecessary. On the game’s final play — an untimed down from the Central Michigan 49-yard-line — quarterback Cooper Rush fired deep and his pass landed into the arms of Jesse Kroll inside the 10. Kroll pushed a lateral to his Central Michigan teammate Corey Willis, who bounced to the outside before outrunning Oklahoma State defenders to the end zone for the winning touchdown.
Central Michigan had emerged victorious on a play that never should have happened.
Early on, it didn’t seem like the game would come down to a final play. Oklahoma State raced to a 14-0 lead after a quarter behind touchdown passes from Rudolph to Jalen McCleskey and Zac Veatch, but the Cowboys wouldn’t find the end zone again until the fourth quarter.
Rush threw touchdown passes to Tyler Conklin — one in the second quarter and one in the third — to draw Central Michigan even at 17. After Ben Grogan’s field goal put Oklahoma State back in front late in the third, Rush’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Devon Spalding with less than 10 minutes to go in the game gave the Chippewas their first lead, 24-20. Rush passed for 368 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
Following a fumble, Oklahoma State regained the lead with 5:12 to go when Dillon Stoner found fellow wide receiver James Washington for the 2-yard touchdown on a trick play. That was Stoner’s lone pass of the day as Rudolph finished with 286 yards passing. McCleskey led all receivers with 11 catches for 103 yards in the loss.
The loss served as a huge blow at the time for Oklahoma State, but it wouldn’t be a microcosm of the season for either program. Oklahoma State split its next two games before winning eight of its final nine to complete a 10-win season. The Cowboys finished the year with a 38-8 beatdown of No. 9 Colorado in the Alamo Bowl to finish No. 11 in the final AP Poll.
Central Michigan started 3-0, but lost seven of its final 10 games. The Chippewas capped the season with a 55-10 loss to Tulsa in the Miami Beach Bowl. The thrilling victory in Stillwater would not be the only game decided on the final play for Central Michigan, but it was the most memorable. It came on this day five years ago.