Once upon a time, visiting teams dreaded playing at Jones Stadium because time and again, the football gods seemed to smile upon the Texas Tech football team when the Red Raiders were playing at home. But over the last decade, just about every Big 12 team has found life far more manageable when visiting Lubbock as the mystique of The Jones has faded into memory. In fact, an entire generation of Red Raiders has grown up not knowing anything but frustration and disappointment while attending Big 12 home games.
However, thanks to a 62-yard game-winning field goal by Jonathan Garibay to knock off Iowa State as time expired on Saturday evening, that magic returned for at least one Saturday. What’s more important though is that it could be here to stay if what we saw from redshirt freshman quarterback Donovan Smith proves to be a harbinger of things to come.
In the 41-38 win, one that secured bowl eligibility for the Red Raiders, Smith was 25-32 for 322 yards and 3 TDs with only one interception, and that interception should not have counted. It was one of a number of indefensible calls from the Big 12 officiating crew as on the play, Tech tight end Travis Koontz caught a pass and was flung to the ground, causing the ball to pop into the air where an Iowa State player grabbed it and was awarded an interception. And in an unfathomable moment of officiating incompetence, the play was not even reviewed.
In fact, all game long, Tech seemed to be battling against both the Cyclones and the officials. While each team was penalized only five times, the fact of the matter is that a number of seemingly obvious calls that should have gone Tech’s way were overturned. In all, Tech had two rather clear interceptions overturned or not called correctly upon replay with both instances leading to Iowa State touchdowns.
What’s more, the officials seemed to carry their disdain for Tech to the student section in an unprecedented moment of chaos. Late in the fourth quarter, after a water bottle from the stands was thrown onto the field near the Iowa State sideline, the officials ordered two sections of the student seating area to be cleared out, something that has to be a first in Texas Tech football history.
But in the end, Tech was able to overcome all the adversity thrown its way and end a 5-game losing streak to the Cyclones in the most dramatic of fashions. But for a while, it appeared as if late-game heroics wouldn’t be necessary.
Behind three TD passes from Smith, Tech jumped out to a 28-7 lead in the second quarter and held a 31-14 edge at the intermission. But in the second half, Tech’s offense stalled and the Cyclone passing game got cranking allowing the Cyclones to eventually tie the game at 38-38 with just over a minute to play.
Fortunately, that would just set the stage for Garibay’s heroics. Now, it’s fair to question whether this win will mark a turning point in the history of Texas Tech football.
No, it won’t propel this year’s team to a championship. But it could have long-lasting implications on next year’s team.
It seems inconceivable to think that anyone other than Smith will start the final three games of the season for Tech at the QB spot. And given how well the Frienship High School product played, there’s reason to hope that he’s going to stake his claim as the quarterback of the future.
Meanwhile, the fight that his team showed and the fact that his offense hung 41 points on a stout Iowa State defense might have earned interim head coach Sonny Cumbie the inside track to being the 2022 offensive coordinator under new head coach Joey McGuire.
But perhaps most of all, it could be the moment when Red Raider fans fell back in love with Jones Stadium. It’s been years since fans in the Double T felt like things were going to fall our way during a home game so seeing the Jones Stadium magic reappear in the most improbable of manners finally gives the hometown fans, and those that faithfully travel from hours away, a reason to reinvest in Red Raider football.
After Garibagy’s kick sailed through the uprights, the Red Raider student section stormed the field not to celebrate a win over Iowa State but to revel in the return of something that has been missing from all of our lives for far too long, something that we used to take for granted. That good old-fashioned Jones Stadium magic.