Rematch of emotional game as Cowboys face Cyclones
The memories of Oklahoma State's trip to Iowa State a season ago are etched in Richetti Jones' memory in an aura of sadness and spookiness.
It's not just the fact that the Cowboys' dream season and national championship bid got derailed with a loss, but the circumstances that surrounded that Friday night game. That morning, the team learned of the crash that killed women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and two others on a recruiting trip to Arkansas.
The game still went on.
''That was the weirdest day ever,'' said Jones, a senior defensive end for the Cowboys last season. ''It was like it wasn't real life.''
What was terribly real seemed to Jones like it was right out of a tragic movie. Carrying a 10-0 record and needing two more wins to reach the national championship game, the Cowboys lost 37-31 in double overtime to a Cyclones team that had never beaten a team ranked in the top six in 58 previous chances.
''Not so much physical as emotional, it hurt,'' linebacker Alex Elkins said. ''I don't like to lose and after everything we'd been through that season, for us to come that close and lose, it hurts.''
The rematch of that game comes Saturday in Stillwater, and the memories are still fresh from a day of jubilation for Iowa State's football program and a diametrically opposite feeling for Oklahoma State.
Coach Mike Gundy remembers telling his team about the plane crash tragedy during a meeting in a banquet room and how quiet they remained while at the team hotel, during meetings, on a bus ride to the stadium and in the locker room before the game.
After watching TV news reports about the plane crash throughout the day, the Cowboys boarded three buses for what Jones remembers as about a 30-minute drive through pitch black fields to get to the stadium.
''It's eerie, it's creepy and all you can think about is death ... because of what happened - these people are actually gone. And then you stop at a stop sign and make a left and there's only one bus behind you,'' Jones said. ''We get to the stadium and we're warming up with only half the team.''
One of the team buses had broken down on the way to the game, adding another layer of complication for players who were already emotionally rattled. Jones won't argue that turnover problems did in Oklahoma State on that night, but there was something else to it, too.
''You can say that it didn't affect us, but it did. It did,'' Jones said. ''You can say whatever you want, but these people died. They're dead. They're not coming back.''
Considering all of the circumstances, there's absolutely no comparison between last year's game and the one on Saturday. This time, it's a somewhat routine midseason game with Oklahoma State (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) and Iowa State (4-2, 1-2) slugging it out for position in the middle of the conference standings.
Both Gundy and counterpart Paul Rhoads downplayed the revenge factor.
''Coach Gundy is a very smart coach and he doesn't need extra motivation for his team,'' Rhoads said. ''He knows the importance of this game because it's the next game, and I'm sure that's how he's preparing them, just like that's how we're preparing our football club.''
Gundy continued to withhold whether his starting quarterback would be freshman Wes Lunt, who won the job in the spring, or J.W. Walsh, who replaced him after an injury last month. Walsh got the call last week at Kansas even though Lunt was able to play, and the Cowboys had their NCAA record-tying run of 22 straight games scoring at least 30 points snapped in a 20-14 win.
Oklahoma State had only 24 points in regulation at Iowa State last season.
''We'll have our hands full to do anything close to that, like we did last year,'' Rhoads said.
The Cyclones cracked the top 25 in the first BCS standings of the season after losing 27-21 to then-No. 6 Kansas State last weekend in their bid to upset a second straight ranked opponent.
''They just don't make any mistakes,'' Gundy said. ''They play good football and they don't turn it over. They're sound. From this season and even back into last season, you can see that they've competed against good offenses and played much better than what people would have expected them to.
''We're to the point now that everybody realizes that it doesn't happen by accident that Iowa State is a good football team and worthy of the consideration that they're getting.''