STILLWATER, Okla. -- Twice, Oklahoma State fans' hopes were dwindling. Texas A&M had given up 28 consecutive points to fall behind 35-21, but somehow rebounded to tie the game and had the ball one more time.
The Aggies' Jerrod Johnson, looking to get into field-goal range, took a snap near midfield with just under 30 seconds to play and launched a pass downfield to Uzoma Nwachukwu.
It sailed too far. Waiting to cradle it? Freshman linebacker Shaun Lewis, who returned it 27 yards back into Texas A&M territory, setting up a game-winning field goal and helping Oklahoma State win a share of the Big 12 South.
"He's very unique in him being a freshman and able to make so many huge plays during the season," said coach Mike Gundy. "He’s got great savvy and a knack for being in the right area where the ball is, so you like having a young player that can make that many big plays."
That was the fourth game of Lewis' college career, playing the linebacker spot the defensive coordinator Bill Young calls "Star."
"He came from a high school program that’s very well-coached and played at a high level in Texas, and he’d been in big games in those situations," Gundy said of the Fort Bend Hightower alum from Missouri City, Texas. "He’s unique, and every once in awhile, you’ll run across a young guy who can play like a veteran would with not much experience. You don’t see it a lot, but he obviously had the ability to do that, and as the season progressed, he got better and better.
He wasn't done. In the regular-season finale against Oklahoma, the Sooners looked ready to blow out Oklahoma State in a game that would decide the division. Oklahoma grabbed a 14-3 lead and had the ball, inching toward total control.
Quarterback Landry Jones, rushed slightly, stepped up in the pocket and fired a pass underneath to Ryan Broyles, who finished with 131 receptions. Lewis' orange blur, though, slipped in front of the pass and raced 52 yards for a momentum-shifting score that got Oklahoma State back in the game.
He added another interception later in the game on the back half of one of the greatest plays in recent college football history.
"I got to thinking, 'This guy, he always is in the right place at the right time, you know?'" Gundy said. "In the middle of the season, I started to see that."
Oklahoma State's defense this fall loses a pair of leaders in defensive end Ugo Chinasa and linebacker Orie Lemon, but for a largely inexperienced defense, especially at linebacker, the next step for Lewis, is joining safety Markelle Martin as a player the rest of the defense can look to for guidance.
"He has and to step up," Gundy said. "He’s now a veteran because he’s made those plays in key situations."