Jordan Williamson may feel like the loneliest man on the planet after missing two critical field goals, but Stanford's two missed scoring opportunities in the first quarter were just as lethal.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who received the game's Sportsmanship Award, produced yet another remarkable performance, as did junior running back Stepfan Taylor and freshman receiver Ty Montgomery and so many other Cardinal players.
David Shaw and his coaching staff had a grand game plan that was succeeding. The pieces were all there for a spectacular finish to another fantastic season and Luck was fitting it all together.
"I play the game to win and I think all these guys would say the same thing," Luck said. "Sure I'll review game film to see where I can get better but at the end of the day we lost and I'm just as responsible as anyone else."
Luck and his Stanford teammates didn't much care for the way the season ended, nor for the folks moving on with their lives whether it includes the NFL or otherwise. Then again, let's remember the seven straight losing years between Tyrone Willingham and Jim Harbaugh, the longest such streak in Stanford history.
Things could be worse. Or they could have been just a little bit better. After the disappointment of Monday's loss completes its journey from denial to acceptance, the football program will look a whole lot better.
Every fisherman has his story about the one that got away. For every champion, there's a thousand losers. For every horseshoe that comes close . . . well, no need to harp on what could have been.
The most anticipated postseason game outside of the BCS championship, the Fiesta Bowl was an impressive offensive show, two of the nation's best teams trading big plays and scores.
Oklahoma State (12-1) came up with the last one on Quinn Sharp's 22-yard field goal in overtime to win its first BCS bowl game. Stanford had led the entire game until that final kick.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said his team dedicated the victory to the four people who died in the Nov. 17 plane crash that killed Cowboys' women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna.
After getting the ball back with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter and the score tied, Luck drove the Cardinal within field-goal range with 52 seconds to play. Stanford, however, ran two running plays and put the game on the shoulder of Williamson, hooked a 35-yard field goal wide left as time expired. He also missed from 43 yards in overtime. Williamson was in tears in front of his locker after the game and didn't speak with reporters.
Luck hit 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns in his final game before heading to the NFL. Taylor ran for a career-high 177 yards and a pair of scores, and the Cardinal (11-2) recorded 590 yards but couldn't pull out their second straight BCS bowl victory.
"Our kids played hard," Shaw said. "They just didn't finish the game."
The Cardinal lost to eventual Pac-12 champion Oregon and crushed nearly everyone else with an offense that was top-15 in scoring and yardage. Stanford also has Luck, the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up and all-but-certain No. 1 overall NFL pick, complemented by a powerful running game that's as good as any anywhere.
Stanford was the only team to live up to the billing in the early going.
Manhandling Oklahoma State's defense up front, the Cardinal had 225 yards by early in the second quarter and led 14-0 after Luck hit Montgomery on a 53-yard touchdown pass and Jeremy Stewart ran for a 24-yard score.
Montgomery caught seven passes for 137 yards, his first career 100-yard plus receiving game.
The Cardinal held Oklahoma State to 15 yards rushing on 13 carries and didn't give up the lead until the final play.
It still wasn't enough, the Cardinal's hopes sailing wide left off the right foot of Williamson, a redshirt freshman who missed three field goals after missing three all season.
The Stanford coaches (Shaw, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton), however, failed to put the ball on the left hash mark for Williamson on all his misses, failing to give the right-footed, soccer-style kicker the best opportunity for success.
"There's an old saying that adversity reveals character, and that's not just for him, that's for all of us," Shaw said.
Luck said no one was to blame for the loss. He thinks people just want a scapegoat or a hero and, as he put it, "that's just not the case in any football game."
Luck finished his career with a school-record 82 touchdown passes, 22 interceptions, 9,430 passing yards and a 31-7 career record as the starter.
Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon showed why he's considered the best college wide receiver. He caught his first pass by splitting the middle of Stanford's defense for a 43-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, then showed off his power on the next, brushing off a defender before racing for a 67-yard touchdown that tied it 14-all.
Two big catches, 110 yards and the offensive show was on.
Taylor scored on a 4-yard run and the Cowboys answered, tying it 21-all at halftime on Weeden's first career rushing touchdown, an ugly-but-effective 2-yarder.
Luck hit Zach Ertz on a 6-yard touchdown pass to open the third quarter and, after the teams traded field goals, Weeden found Blackmon for a third time, on a 17-yard crossing pass that tied the game at 31.
Taylor put Stanford up 38-31 with 4 1/2 minutes left, ducking behind Stanford's massive offensive line for a 1-yard touchdown. Oklahoma State answered quickly, moving 67 yards in less than two minutes to tie it on Joseph Randle's 4-yard touchdown run.
The Cowboys left too much time for Luck, but Stanford's luck ran out when Williamson couldn't come through in regulation and again in overtime.
When it comes to losing, there's always more questions than answers. There were a few Stanford offensive plays, for example, that went bust. Tyler Gaffney lined up as the quarterback twice and got nothing.
The defense didn't make every play either, nor did special teams make all the plays. In a game so close, there's always a handful of turning points.
Perhaps it's better to understand what it took to get to the verge of a BCS bowl championship, especially with a first-year coach and expectations that seemed preposterously high.
It took a lot more than just Luck, who leaves the program as decorated as past quarterbacks like John Elway, Jim Plunkett, John Brodie and Frankie Albert.
It may be over for Luck but it's just beginning for Shaw.
This story contains 1165 words.
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