Cardiac Cowboys find a way to win again to keep playoff dreams alive

AMES, Iowa -- In the fourth quarter of yet another dramatic Oklahoma State rally, change-of-pace quarterback J.W. Walsh weaved through the Iowa State defense before slicing across the goal line.

After flipping the ball to the ref, Walsh put his index finger in front of his mouth to shush the Jack Trice Stadium crowd. The crowd, however, was already silent, acutely aware of what was unfolding.

The Cyclones led for 57 minutes Saturday.

But the Cardiac Cowboys were on top for the only three that mattered.

For the fifth time this season, eighth-ranked Oklahoma State came storming back from a second-half deficit, defeating Iowa State 35-31 to move to 10-0.

"We're relentless," said Walsh, whose initials might as well stand for Just Win.

"We don't give in."

Behind an unwavering pair of quarterbacks in Walsh and Mason Rudolph, and a defense that gave up big yards but didn't give in during the big moments, the Cowboys purged some demons from the November 2011 overtime loss at Iowa State that knocked them out of the national title picture.

This time, Oklahoma State will head home from Ames still very much in contention both in the Big 12 and for the College Football Playoff.

"Those [losses] never go away as a coach," said Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, who has led the Cowboys to 12 consecutive victories dating to last season. "Down 10 in the fourth quarter, [2011] crossed my mind."

That thought, though, never fazed his players. Even when they trailed 24-7 in the second quarter, then 31-21 in the fourth.

"There was no panic," said slot receiver David Glidden, who along with Walsh was a redshirting true freshman on the 2011 team. "Wasn't a big deal. We'd been in this situation this year before."

These Cowboys might not boast an explosive offense like Baylor's. Or a dominant defense like Alabama's.

But in tight situations, no team in the country has repeatedly been more clutch than Oklahoma State, which, on top of the five comebacks, is the only one in the FBS this season to twice rally from 17-point deficits.

"We've had so much experience in those situations," Rudolph said. "We know how to react when it goes down to the wire."

Nobody reacted better than Rudolph, who completed seven of his nine attempts in the fourth quarter while quarterbacking the Cowboys the length of the field for a pair of touchdowns. Rudolph finished with 
327 yards passing.

"I walked up to Mason [before the fourth quarter] on the sideline and told him, 'You do you,' " Walsh said. "He's shown that when it's crunch time, he makes plays -- every time."

Rudolph's biggest crunch-time moment came at the beginning of Oklahoma State's go-ahead drive -- which became possible with the help of a little good fortune.

Oklahoma State faced third-and-10, and an incomplete pass looked as if it were going to force a punt with six minutes remaining and hand the Cyclones a prime chance to clinch the game. But officials belatedly whistled left tackle Victor Salako for a false start, giving the Pokes another shot. And on the next play, Rudolph found Glidden wide open for a 31-yard first down. Later on the drive, Rudolph converted another third down with another completion to Glidden. Then Walsh finished it off with a scoring swing pass to Jeff Carr, who put the Cowboys up 35-31.

"Our quarterbacks are so gritty," said wideout Marcell Ateman, who, with James Washington held in check, picked up the slack with 132 yards receiving. "They get everyone else going."

The Oklahoma State defense finally got going, too, after spending the first half on its heels. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah came up with crucial sacks to end two Iowa State drives. Then, after the Cowboys took the lead, inside linebacker Chad Whitener stuffed Iowa State running back Mike Warren on fourth-and-1 to all but seal the victory.

"At this point, we believe if we're anywhere close in the game at the end, we're going to win it," Walsh said. "We've shown that. We've proven that."

That calling card has been the difference for the Cowboys so far. And it could be the difference for them these next two weeks when the Big 12 -- and possibly a playoff spot -- will be decided.

Sixth-ranked Baylor comes to Stillwater next Saturday, followed by No. 12 Oklahoma on Thanksgiving weekend. Though the Pokes ran TCU out of Boone Pickens Stadium, those remaining tilts figure to come down to the final minutes.

And those minutes have brought out the best in the Cowboys -- who never panic ... never give in.

And, as they did Saturday, find a way to just win.

"This is -- I don't want to say a dream season yet," Glidden said. "Hopefully we can look back at the end and say that it was."