LUBBOCK, Texas -- Oklahoma State flirted with disaster all night.
As much as its offense moved the ball, the 15th-ranked Cowboys committed self-inflicted errors all over the field against Texas Tech.
Inopportune penalties. Two missed short field goal attempts that clanged off the upright. A 95-yard interception return for a touchdown. Struggles in the red zone. When it came to mistakes, the Cowboys had it covered.
But in the game’s waning moments, with the ball in Mason Rudolph’s hands, the quarterback engineered one final drive, and one final run. With just over a minute to play, Rudolph faked a handoff and scampered 16 yards for the game-winning score with 72 seconds to play.
With its 41-34 victory at Jones AT&T Stadium, Oklahoma State (4-1) won its ninth straight over Texas Tech, and its fifth straight in Lubbock.
It was a game as entertaining as it was expected to be, with several players – including Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill – looking like the difference maker at various points. But there were plenty of momentum swings, and the game was not secured until the Cowboys stopped Tech (3-1) with 18 seconds to play.
After Tech cut the deficit to seven points early in the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders gambled with an onside kick and it paid off -- they recovered the ball. But quarterback Nic Shimonek, who had only thrown one interception this season, lofted an ill-advised pass that was picked off by defensive end Jordan Brailford.
On its next possession, though, Tech’s Desmond Nisby bulldozed into the end zone to tie the game with just under 10 minutes to play.
It was one of the themes of the game. Whenever the Cowboys appeared to seize control, they would relinquish it just as quickly.
At halftime, the Cowboys had outgained Tech, 343-172, but only held a four-point lead because of a handful of costly mistakes.
Oklahoma moved the ball with little resistance in the first half but the team had several issues. A 95-yard interception return for a touchdown, a missed short field goal and a key pass interference penalty helped Tech take the lead early in the second quarter.
Those miscues may catch up with the Cowboys against better competition. For the most part, they looked sharp offensively early in the game.
Oklahoma State marched 68 yards on its first possession in highly efficient fashion. James Washington’s 14-yard touchdown reception capped seven-play drive that took less than two minutes.
Rudolph completed his first five passes in the game before either overthrowing or having a communication issue with receiver Jalen McCleskey near the end zone. The ball sailed high and defensive back DeMarcus Fields intercepted it and raced back 95 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
Tech’s success this year has largely been the result of excelling in turnover margin, where the Red Raiders have ranked among the nation’s best. Its defense has not been stifling; it has been opportunistic, as was the case early Saturday night.
On the drive following the interception, Oklahoma State moved the ball well again, only to have Matt Ammendola wind up missing a 22-yard field goal that bounced off the upright.
On those two drives, the Cowboys collected 112 total yards but came away with zero points. In fact, they reached the red zone on every possession in the first half but couldn’t find much separation on the scoreboard.
A pass interference penalty against Oklahoma State on a third-and-goal play gave Tech another chance to score early in the second quarter. Soon after, cornerback A.J. Green slipped and receiver Dylan Cantrell found himself open for a three-yard touchdown reception.
Toward the end of the second quarter, Rudolph was clearly in rhythm. He scrambled nicely before lofting a touchdown pass in the end zone to wide open McCleskey.
But there was a long way to go. And Rudolph would have to make the game’s biggest play with his legs.