Finally, the magic has returned to Jones Stadium, at least for one afternoon. And on Saturday, the Texas Tech football team needed all the magic their home field could muster up to pull out a 33-30 win over No. 25 Houston in double-overtime.
Multiple times on the afternoon, it appeared as if Joey McGuire and his team had run out of chances after blowing a 17-3 halftime lead. Mistakes, questionable play calls, poor work by the offensive line, and three interceptions by QB Donovan Smith helped the Cougars take a 20-17 lead on a field goal with just 0:37 to play.
However, Smith, who had thrown what looked to be a back-breaking interception to set up that Cougar field goal, would march Tech 46 yards in six plays taking only 0:34 off of the clock to set up Trey Wolff for a game-tying 47-yard kick. Of course, that was no given being as Wolffe had already missed a 46-yarder earlier in the afternoon. But he was able to conquer the moment and drill the kick, which would have been good from 57 yards given how well he struck it.
Yet, the nail-biting moments weren’t over for the Red Raiders. After the Cougars would score a TD on their first drive of overtime, forcing Tech to match that to keep the game alive, the Red Raiders would face a 4th-and-20 from the 35 in what seemed like the direst of circumstances.
However, Houston, which had played some tight man coverage for much of the game, dropped into a deep shell allowing Smith to find a wide-open Jerand Bradley streaking across the field. The redshirt freshman wide receiver would turn the ball upfield and pick up the first down by a yard to keep the game alive. It was the second time on the afternoon when it felt as if something special was brewing at Jones Stadium but Tech still had work to do in the second overtime.
Fortunately, the Red Raider defense, which was excellent all afternoon, was able to bow up and hold U of H to a field goal on the first drive of the second OT. That allowed Tech to win the game when Smith scrambled for a 9-yard TD run right up the middle of a Houston defense that had battered him for most of the game.
Finishing the day 36-57 passing for 351 yards and two TDs, Smith was under pressure from the Cougar defensive line nearly every time he dropped back to pass. He was sacked five times and hurried on countless other occasions as the rebuilt Red Raider offensive line was unable to keep the visitors from living in the Tech backfield. And for a moment, it appeared as if Smith would wind up being the goat in a Red Raider loss.
Each of his three picks in the second half was nearly back-breaking. The first came with Tech driving deep in Houston territory and it took almost certain points off the board. The second was a pick-six. The third was returned over 30 yards to set up the Cougars for their final points of regulation, points that appeared as if they would be the difference in what would have been Houston’s first win in Lubbock since 1990.
However, special players have sort memories and rise to the occasion in the aftermath of adversity. That’s what Smith did.
In the final drive of the game and the two OT periods, he was 5-6 passing for 56 yards to go with a run of 27 yards to begin Tech’s game-tying drive at the end of regulation and the game-winning scamper. That might be a performance that we look back upon as one that defines this season.
Tech is now assured of going no worse than 2-1 in non-conference play and could get halfway to bowl eligibility by beating N.C. State next weekend on the road. But had this game gone the other way, it would have been tough to envision the Red Raiders getting to six wins on the season given how daunting their Big 12 schedule is, especially early in the year before there is even a thought of starting QB Tyler Shough returning from the collar bone injury that he sustained last week against Murray State.
Perhaps just as important though was the fact that Tech finally figured out how to win an exciting, meaningful game at home against an opponent that moves the needle with the fan base. That’s something that the program has seldomly done in the past decade and it’s an important step towards restoring the Jones Stadium mystique that once had other Big 12 teams shaking in their boots.
While there’s still a ways to go before we can declare Lubbock the most feared road trip in the conference again, at least for one day, the old adage that crazy things happen at Jones Stadium proved to be true. And finally, those crazy occurrences broke the way of the Red Raiders.