For nearly the entire first half Thursday night, Virginia Tech looked like it had almost everything under control.
It appeared to have a chance to persevere after one huge goal-line mistake and control the tempo of the game against lightning-fast Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl, but the Hokies weren’t able to make its decent start last, failing to move the ball for big chunks of the second half and falling 30-21 against No. 19 Oklahoma State.
With the loss, No. 22 Tech saw its three-game bowl winning streak snapped. Despite missing starting wide receiver Cam Phillips, Tech (9-4) surprisingly managed to outgain Oklahoma State 518-492 in yardage, but the Cowboys found their offensive groove after the half.
After sputtering offensively for much of the second half, Tech still made a game of it late when quarterback Josh Jackson got hot throwing the ball with the Hokies trailing 27-14. When Oklahoma State (10-3) turned the ball over on downs at Tech’s 39-yard line, Jackson quickly moved the Hokies down the field to the Cowboys’ 5, completing 4-of-6 passes for 56 yards in the process.
Jackson got Tech within striking distance of Oklahoma State when he reached over the goal line on a 5-yard keeper to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 27-21.
Tech had to follow up with a stop, but Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill ran for 31 yards on third-and-11 from the Hokies’ 49 to help put the Cowboys in field goal range. Matt Ammendola put the game away on a 38-yard field goal with 2:34 left.
Tech’s evening started with a lot of promise, as the Hokies were able to accomplish their objective in the early going.
Leading 7-3 late in the first quarter, Tech had a chance to make a statement on a drive where everything it was trying to establish in the first half came together – effective running game, ball control and clock management. Disaster struck inside Oklahoma State’s 5.
Taking over at its own 9 with 5:46 left in the quarter, Tech held the ball for 18 plays and 10 minutes, four seconds, reaching Oklahoma State’s 1. On the 18th play, Tech was poised to punch it into the end zone for would’ve been its longest scoring drive of the season in terms of plays, yards and time of possession.
Instead, a bad exchange from Jackson to running back Steven Peoples resulted in a fumble that Oklahoma State safety Ramon Richards fell on at the Cowboys’ 9. Tech kept Oklahoma State out of the end zone on its ensuing drive, but the Cowboys did cut the Hokies’ lead to 7-6 with 7:28 left in the second quarter via a 36-yard field goal by Matt Amendola.
Tech couldn’t get inside Oklahoma State’s 49 on its final three drive of the half, but the Hokies’ defense stood tall for most of the remainder of the half. One play switched momentum Oklahoma State’s direction for good.
On second-and-6 from Oklahoma State’s 49 with under a minute left in the second quarter, quarterback Mason Rudolph found wide receiver Marcell Ateman running behind cornerback Adonis Alexander. Rudolph connected with Ateman for a 50-yard pass to Tech’s 1.
Running back Justice Hill scored on the next play via a 1-yard touchdown run to put Oklahoma State up 13-7 with 45 seconds left before halftime. Tech did what it planned to do in the first half, owning time of possession (19 minutes, 49 seconds compared to Oklahoma State’s 10 minutes, 11 seconds), but the lost fumble and Ateman’s big catch loomed large.
In the third quarter, Oklahoma State found the offensive rhythm that eluded it in the first half. Oklahoma State scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions that spanned the late second quarter and third quarter.
Rudolph capped Oklahoma State’s first drive of the second half by getting away from a rush, rolling to his right and completing a sharp 17-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dillon Stoner with 11:22 left in the third quarter to put the Cowboys up 20-7.
It was all Tech could do just to try to keep up from that point. No longer able to work the clock, Tech went to the air on the drive after Oklahoma State went up by 13, and managed to find the end zone.
After keeping the drive alive with a 22-yard completion to receiver Phil Patterson on third-and-6 that got Tech to Oklahoma State’s 43, Jackson ultimately punctuated the drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Eric Kumah with 6:31 left to trim the Cowboys’ lead to 20-14.
To that point, Oklahoma State receiver James Washington hadn’t lived up to his Biletnikoff Award-winning reputation, with just one catch for no yards – and that “catch” came on a jet sweep that was called a forward pass.
He finally made an impact on the game midway through the third quarter.
Washington slipped past safety Reggie Floyd and Rudolph found him for a 65-yard touchdown pass with 5:37 remaining in the third quarter, extending Oklahoma State’s 27-14. It was his fifth touchdown catch of 60-plus yards this season.
Despite driving into Oklahoma State territory on its next two possessions, Tech couldn’t make up any ground. Tech moved from its own 25 to Oklahoma State’s 11 in 13 plays before Jackson and center Eric Gallo botched a snap on fourth-and-8, resulting in a fumble that was recovered by Jackson for a 16-yard loss.
Tech got the ball back at its own 31 after Oklahoma State turned it over on downs. Driving to Oklahoma State’s 29, Tech’s ensuing possession came to a conclusion when Jackson’s pass on third-and-2 slipped through Patterson’s hands and was picked off by cornerback Darius Curry.