Cotton Bowl blues
Four times since 1938 the Red Raiders of Texas Tech University have played on the hallowed field of the Cotton Bowl.
Four times Tech has gone home empty handed. Tech’s first visit to the Cotton Bowl was in 1938 when they faced St. Mary’s (Calif.).
The Tech team of that season went undefeated and untied. Ranked 8th in the nation, they were also the nation’s highest scorer that season.
St. Mary’s would hand them their first and only loss in an otherwise extraordinary season with a score of 20-13.
It would be 56 years before Tech revisited the Cotton Bowl. In 1994 they were matched with USC who simply overwhelmed Tech both offensively and defensively and went on to beat Tech 55-14.
Another nine years would pass before Tech would get the opportunity to try to break their Cotton Bowl losing streak against Alabama.
Unfortunately, Alabama didn’t see fit to help Tech out and handed them a third straight loss, 13-10.
The 2008 Tech football squad would be the last to attempt to break Tech’s Cotton Bowl blues in the final bowl game at the namesake stadium.
Even before they made history by being named as one of the two teams to play in the 73rd and final Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the 2008 team made school history of their own.
Posting a regular season record of 11-1, the team also tied a school record for going undefeated at home.
The last Tech team to accomplish that feat was in 2005, which was also the last Tech team to go to the Cotton Bowl.
Their almost perfect season, which would have almost mirrored the team of 1938, was slightly smudged by the heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma.
Finishing the year ranked 7th in the nation, the Red Raiders boasted two talented individuals from Ellis County. Former Ennis quarterback Graham Harrell needs no introduction.
The 6-3 senior is as focused on the field as he is charismatic off the field. In a post-game interview, when asked about how it felt to play at the Cotton Bowl as opposed to a bigger bowl, Harrell again showed his poise by stating, "If I can’t play for the National Championship, then the Cotton Bowl is the next best thing."
The other prominent Ellis County player comes from Waxahachie High School. Junior offensive lineman Marlon Winn knows his job on the field and he executes it well.
After playing as a back-up his freshman year and replacing an injured starter in eight games last year, Marlon Winn has patiently waited his turn as a starter. Being on the frontline for former high school rival turned teammate Graham Harrell is where Winn wants to be on game day.
Defending his star quarterback was exactly where Marlon Winn was last Friday before a record crowd of 88,175 during the final Cotton Bowl at the namesake stadium.
After a pre-game tribute to Fair Park and each school’s song, the kick-off was right on time at 1 p.m. Ole Miss won the coin toss and chose to receive. The Ole Miss opening drive did not last long nor did they advance down the field. After being sacked, Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead (Stephenville) threw away the next pass attempt as the Tech defense ran right through Ole Miss.
Unfortunately, the opening drive for Tech was no better with Harrell uncharacteristically throwing three incomplete passes in a row, the last of which was a long attempt to wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
With 8:01 left in the first, Tech intercepted Miss and went on to score a touchdown on a 35-yard pass from Harrell to Edward Britton. Just over a minute later, Tech’s Darcel McBath intercepted Miss again and then ran the ball back 45 yards to give Tech a 14-0 lead.
Miss snuck in a touchdown at the end of the quarter bringing the score to 14-7.
Miss scored again in the opening minutes of the second quarter tying Tech at 14. Harrell then found Michael Crabtree to retake the lead before Miss came back with a touchdown and field goal to go up 24-21 at halftime.
Tech fans held their breath when, in the remaining seconds of the first half, unable to find an open receiver Harrell decided to run the ball himself. He was able to scramble to the two yard line before sliding to a stop, unable to reach the end-zone.
Ole Miss would hold Tech scoreless in the third quarter while adding to their own lead with another two touchdowns, the first off of a 65-yard interception return. Now facing a 38-21 deficit, Harrell was able to keep his composure and find Edward Britton again for an early fourth quarter touchdown.
As Tech closed in on Ole Miss, their fans once again had hope of a comeback. Every Tech fan knew a comeback from only 10 points down was by far possible. After all, Harrell’s past bowl record has proven his come-from-behind ability.
In the 2006 Insight Bowl, Tech rallied late under the leadership of Harrell to outscore the Gophers of Minnesota 31-0 in the final 22 minutes of the game to force an over-time. In 2007 at the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl Graham helped Tech score 17 points against Virginia in the last four minutes of the game to win 31-28.
Sadly, Harrell couldn’t make it three in a row as Ole Miss first took a safety and then a 4-yard touchdown run to make it 47-28 with a little over four minutes left in the game.
Tech did go out fighting as Harrell found inside receiver Eric Morris for a 17-yard touchdown with 1:37 left to play. The 47-34 loss to Ole Miss was a bittersweet ending to the Red Raiders’ fabulous season. Had they been 12-0, they would have been the first team to do so in Texas Tech school history. The loss also meant that Tech’s last chance of a Cotton Bowl win was gone.
Along with setting an attendance record in 73 years, the 81 points scored Friday broke the previous record of 75 points set back in 1985 when Boston College beat Houston, 45-28.
In a post-game press conference Tech Head Coach Mike Leach stated that it was "a strange game on both teams’ part."
He went on to state that there were "relatively simple game plans [for both teams]. Both teams had the same goals and Mississippi did a better job doing their job than we did."
None of the players made excuses for their loss or played the disappointment card of not going to a bigger bowl. Darcel McBath tipped his hat to the Rebels stating, "They made plays when they needed to. [They] played a heck of a game. [We] are excited to be here. [We] gave it our best shot."
Harrell echoed the same sentiment saying, "You never like to lose your last game, but it’s been a fun run here."