Castleman leads Oklahoma State to Cactus Bowl win over Washington

Oklahoma State defensive tackle James Castleman celebrates after running for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Mark J. Rebilas/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tempe, Ariz. — James Castleman scored early, then rumbled for a large gain late to seal Oklahoma State’s 30-22 Cactus Bowl victory against Washington on Friday.

Two plays were enough to make it one of the most memorable nights of football for the Cowboys’ senior.

"Being that I got to play a little offense," said the defensive tackle, "I got to put it in the top 5."

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy butted in: "It’s his top game."

The Cowboys started and finished their win against the Huskies with defense. Castleman had his part in that effort, but his surprising impact on offense got the Cowboys rolling, then helped them keep possession away from Washington late.

The senior took a snap out of a Wildcat formation for a 1-yard touchdown to the cap the first drive of the game. Then, playing as a fullback with three minutes left in a one-possession game, Castleman caught a short out.

"I saw the guy who was guarding me fall," Castleman said. "I thought ‘Oh man, (quarterback) Mason (Rudolph) might throw me the ball.’

"I didn’t care if I got yards after that, I just cared if I caught it."

Castleman, by running over a few Huskies and then streaking down the sideline, would turn that short out into a 48-yard gain on a critical third-and-2 with three minutes left. Oklahoma State would use that play to slice another two minutes off the clock; a missed Oklahoma State field goal with 47 seconds left in a one-possession game wasn’t enough for the Huskies to drive the field.

A crowd of 35,409 at Sun Devil Stadium saw the Cowboys go ahead 24-0 by halftime, leaving Washington coach Chris Petersen blaming himself for a slow start.

"I thought the guys practiced hard, I thought we had a good week here," said Petersen. "But the first half was, on offense, still in practice mode. For whatever reason we didn’t have it the first half. The second half they did, but obviously, too little, too late."

To get there, Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph managed the game well, completing 18 of 27 passes for 299 yards, two scores and one pick, while running back Desmond Roland put 32 carries on his shoulders for 123 yards. Roland was the game’s offensive MVP.

The young offensive line got much of the credit, and all of it was just enough to hold off a Washington comeback attempt.

Oklahoma State could only muster two field goals in the second half, and Washington punched in a late touchdown and two-point conversion with 3:29 to play.

Cowboys 30, Huskies 22

Missed opportunities for the Huskies were a story in the first half. Washington’s defense forced two turnovers in the first quarter, even putting Petersen’s team in favorable field position, but the Huskies couldn’t turn either into points.

"We were just getting our teeth kicked in on offense from the very start," Petersen said. "There’s no real good plays when that’s happening. I think you put the tape on and you see it. They were playing harder than us from the start."

It helped the Cowboys had a little trickery in their plan.

Castleman had been begging Gundy to give him a shot to play on offense all year long. When it came time to prepare for the bowl game after a tumultuous 6-6 season, the opportunity arose.

Could a small offensive package for a big defensive player have been the difference? In terms of the Xs and Os, it had quite a bit to do with the Oklahoma State win.

Gundy called the bowl preparation the best in his tenure at Oklahoma State, even better than the Cowboys’ 2012 Fiesta Bowl win.

"Seeing us come together like that was phenomenal," Castleman said. "Seeing how everybody connected with one another … I feel like the energy this whole bowl prep was through the roof."