The night of three field stormings: When Texas Tech beat No. 1 Texas

For one night, Lubbock, Texas, was the center of the college football universe.

It was Nov. 1, 2008, and it was a game that featured two prominent head coaches, six future head coaches, multiple future NFL players, three field stormings and one of the generation’s most memorable game-winning touchdowns.

Ten years after Michael Crabtree strutted into the end zone to help No. 7 Texas Tech topple No. 1 Texas 39-33, more than a dozen key figures recounted their memories from the epic night to ESPN.

As Baker Mayfield said recently when describing another epic game — Oklahoma’s 66-59 win over the Red Raiders in 2016 — “Weird things happen in Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday nights.”

The buildup

Texas was in the middle of a historic run, having run off nine consecutive 10-win seasons. The Longhorns were two years removed from a national championship and racing toward another.

The Red Raiders were having a breakthrough under coach Mike Leach in his ninth season. After six straight seasons of at least eight wins, the Red Raiders were undefeated with a real chance at a Big 12 championship and perhaps national glory.

When the two undefeated squads were set to meet in Week 10, with College GameDay in tow, the anticipation was palpable. Texas Tech students were camping in line outside Jones AT&T Stadium for days in hopes of scoring tickets to the game.

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell: It was chaos in Lubbock. So no matter how you wanted it to feel, and no matter how much Leach wanted it to be just another game, the atmosphere was absolutely different.

Leach: There was this village, they called it Raider Village. … They had tents, fire pits, massive tents, sleeping bags, all kinds of barbecue grills, all kinds of coolers, stereo equipment that’s fancier than anything I ever owned, waterbeds, hot tubs, TVs fancier than I ever owned. I mean, that place was decked out.

Texas Tech receiver Eric Morris: It definitely wasn’t just another game when we played those guys. You look at them as a pompous group that has everything. They got the nice stadium, the nice equipment, all the new Nike stuff. They made more money than anybody.

Texas Tech cornerback Jamar Wall: Texas always kinda overshadowed us. We were never looked at as one of the elite teams in the Big 12, no matter how good our season was. So yeah, I really felt like guys took it personally.

Morris: As much as everybody wants to not admit it, I’ll admit it: All of us Tech guys probably wish we got recruited by Texas. And guess what? 95 percent of us didn’t.

Wall: We have to go out and prove it to everyone now. It’s a big game, on national TV, everyone’s going to be watching.

Texas Tech inside receivers coach Lincoln Riley: This was the one if you really “arrived” as a program, this is gonna be the game that shows it. I think we all felt that way.

Saturday night in Lubbock

Texas coach Mack Brown: They accost you when you come into work on Friday on the practice field. It’s full of students, and they’re screaming at you, yelling and throwing frozen tortillas … there was even a professor from the business school who was always attacking and cussing our kids down at the bus as we get off.

Wall: Uhh, good luck. I heard we have some of the most ruthless fans that you can have.

Texas running back Fozzy Whittaker: It was very hostile. People were flicking us off [when we were] coming in on the bus, yelling at us, putting the horns down.

Texas safety Blake Gideon: It’s just kind of a cold environment. You get to the hotel, and nobody’s really smiling at you. The police officers who are escorting you from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the stadium, they’re not really smiling at you.

Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis: Well, there’s something about going to Lubbock at night.

Whittaker: I remember the blackout they had, so everybody wore black in the stadium. Team wore black on black. Tortillas are flying everywhere.

Gideon: Whenever you go out to Lubbock, it’s all black and red, and they’re fired up about the Red Raiders and no one else. And they have a special hate for anyone in burnt orange.

Harrell: I got to play in the Super Bowl, play in some cool games in some cool stadiums … but nothing had the buzz of that night.

A safety sets the tone

Leach’s teams were known for their offense, but it was the defense that kick-started things with a safety on Texas’ first play from scrimmage. After a downed punt at the 1, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy handed off to Chris Ogbonnaya, who was tackled almost immediately.

Leach: Colby Whitlock, who was from Noble, Oklahoma — who, needless to say, was not a Longhorn fan — he comes blasting through there and just smokes [Ogbonnaya].

Texas Tech defensive back Daniel Charbonnet: He just busted through. It happened so fast. Right behind that end zone was the student section, and it was like a bomb went off.

Riley: For the defense to come out and kinda set the tone the way they did … you knew something was a little bit different there.

Wall: Air Raid was always this, that and the other. So the defense, we took that personally. We believed that we were good. … At practice, we came out every day to destroy the offense.

Texas running backs coach Major Applewhite: I remember they had a fairly good defense. … They weren’t a very complex, 9,000 different blitzes and 20 different fronts. They were just very sound with some experience. They could take the ball away.

Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill: We preached on that. It’s always about effort and fundamentals … just do your job.

Riley: That group, honestly, was the biggest difference-maker in the game.

The defense continued to play well, and Texas missed an early chance at a big pass from McCoy to receiver Jordan Shipley. The Red Raiders finally found their footing on offense. A Baron Batch touchdown run and a corner route from Harrell to Morris helped them build a 19-0 lead. By halftime, the Red Raiders had a commanding 22-6 advantage.

Texas charges back

Eventually, the Longhorns found the end zone when Jordan Shipley returned a punt for a touchdown early in the third quarter. But when McCoy tried to go to Shipley again on the next drive, Charbonnet was there for a pick-six and a 29-13 lead.

With veteran receiver Quan Cosby playing hurt and the Red Raiders trying to blanket Shipley, somebody had to step up for the Longhorns. It turned out to be Malcolm Williams, who caught a 37-yard touchdown and a 91-yard touchdown on consecutive drives to thrust Texas back into the game, narrowing Tech’s lead to three.

Wall: Malcolm Williams almost single-handedly brought them back into that game. It’s one of those games you knew you were going to have to play it from start to finish because they are who they are and they’re not going to quit.

After a Red Raiders field goal, Texas took over at its 20 with 5:45 left, needing a touchdown for the lead. As the minutes ticked off the clock and the Longhorns marched into the red zone, the home crowd grew nervous. The clock ticked under two minutes as the Longhorns inched closer to a score.

Harrell: Once they got inside the 10 … honestly, I was kinda thinking, “We just need to let ’em score.”

Brown: We ran a counter play, and Greg [Davis] and I were talking and said, “After this play, if we don’t score, let’s let the clock run down as far as we can, and then we’ll take timeout.” But weirdly enough, we hadn’t run the ball very well that night, and [Vondrell McGee] squirted [through] and scored.

Harrell: As soon as they scored, the first thing I thought was, “They left us too much time.”

The drive, the play, the chaos

The Longhorns took a 33-32 lead with 1:29 left. They kicked off to Wall — Brown said the kickoff was supposed to be inside the left hash, but it went to the middle — and Wall returned it to the 37 with 1:23 to go.

Leach: We got the whole offense on the sideline and said, “Look, we march down and score, and we win this game.” It was very tight, very focused, quick and efficient. It was a good drive.

Davis: As they started moving down the field, it’s a helpless feeling to be the offensive coordinator, and you’re sitting in the box.

Harrell hit Batch, Detron Lewis twice and Edward Britton to get the Red Raiders in field goal range. But the second-to-last play from scrimmage is remembered almost as much as the final one. Harrell was flushed from the pocket, he scrambled, and he hit Britton at the Texas 20. The ball went off Britton’s hands and hung in the air. Gideon sprinted in from the 10 and got his arms around the ball as he fell to the ground. Then everyone held their breath.

Harrell: I throw it, ball pops up, and so it’s kinda like in slow motion at first. “C’mon, it’s not gonna end like this.”

Davis: I’m in the box, and I remember seeing the ball tipped, and I see Blake, and I start folding up, putting stuff in my bag [to head down to the field]. It’s over, man.

Gideon: I was caught in between whether I wanted to catch it and run a couple steps — I don’t know why because we had the lead — and securing the catch. I don’t know, I took my eye off the ball or whatever, and it slipped through my elbows, kinda like a muffed punt.

Texas Tech OL Rylan Reed: It was right in front of me on the left side of the field. I’ll never forget it. I was trying to run, and I just felt so helpless. It seemed like that ball was in the air for a minute. It happened so slow. But to see it go through his hands, ah, it was just such a relief. Then I thought, “We’re about to win this thing.”

Charbonnet: I remember sitting on the sideline thinking it got intercepted. And it was just the most crushing, deflating feeling because I couldn’t see the ball hit the ground. Then they showed the replay, and it was just like, “Whew.”

Brown: And [Gideon] took huge abuse. It was awful. In fact, people to this day who talk about that game blame Blake.

Whittaker: I’ve always been the first one to let him know that “it is not your fault,” and I hated it for him because he got death threats, and people were trying to say this and that. Everything was falling back on him, and I hated that attitude that people had toward him. It wasn’t only his fault. We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain early on, and honestly, we were able to get it going, but the defense had been doing their thing enough all year to be able to get us in this position.

Gideon: I didn’t realize that that play would mean as much as it did until the next play happened, and the whole situation comes down on your mind. Like, “Oh crap, that could’ve won it for us. That could’ve ended it, and I blew that opportunity.” … I didn’t hear anything negative from my team. I don’t think my team, or the leaders, would’ve allowed it. I think that’s what kept a young, 18-year-old Blake Gideon from completely cratering. That moment forced me to grow up.

With eight seconds and one timeout left, there was no discussion of a field goal — yet — for the Red Raiders. They had to run one more play first — four verticals, of course. Harrell figured the Longhorns would double-team Crabtree, and he’d look for Morris up the seam. Instead, safety Earl Thomas tried to “split the difference” between Morris and Crabtree.

Harrell: I’m thinking, “There’s no way in the world they actually did this,” and it was pretty obvious at that point where I was going. We were good on the back shoulder [throw] that year, and I knew we could hit it. So I threw the back shoulder because it was one-on-one, and if you’re going to give anybody on your team a chance to make a play, it’s gonna be Crab.

Riley: I could tell he caught it, but then I was thinking, “Either get a score, or get out of bounds.” I knew clock-wise we had eight seconds. So once he scored, it was pandemonium for a second.

Wall: I was like, “Holy crap. This man is really that good.” How do you keep your heel from not going down and stepping out of bounds?

Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree, in 2008: My eyes were on the sideline the whole time. I was trying not to step out of bounds because the safety had fallen down, and it worked.

Davis: I see the route unfold, I’m thinking, “Just tackle him. It doesn’t matter.” He shook free and went in the end zone, so it was a sickening feeling to know that it was going to be a hard game, get out there, dig yourself a hole, dig out of the hole, take the lead, have a chance to close it out, and then Crabtree comes up with it.

Brown: This is something we haven’t ever really said, but I heard a whistle from the stands, and so did Earl Thomas, and he and [Curtis Brown] both pulled off of him, and [Crabtree] turns around and runs in for the touchdown. So the next day, I asked Earl, without saying anything, “Why did you pull off?” [He said] “Coach, I heard a whistle. I knew if we hit him late, out of bounds, we’d get 15 yards and they’d get another play. And I thought the game was over.” And I thought the same thing. Now, nobody wants to hear that, so it doesn’t matter, but he actually said that to me.

After Crabtree sprinted in the end zone and his teammates dog-piled him in celebration, fans from the student section sprinted onto the field.

Crabtree, in 2008: To tell you the truth, after the celebration, I fell on the ground, and I couldn’t breathe. The whole time I was telling everybody to get off me, get off me. It was great, though.

The only problem? There was one second left in the game. Officials had to clear the field, security lowered the goal posts (just in case), and there was still a replay review to be done.

Once the call was confirmed, the fans stormed the field again. After the Red Raiders kicked the extra point, two personal foul penalties were assessed, forcing Texas Tech to kick off from its own 7. The fans were ushered to the sideline (there wasn’t enough time to get them back into their seats), and they watched as the Red Raiders squib kicked the ball in hopes of avoiding a disaster.

Riley: You go from thinking the game is over, and all of a sudden, you’re in a situation that you probably never thought about, your kicker never practiced and had to figure out a way to execute that final last play.

Charbonnet: I’m standing over by the sideline in my normal position to go run down the kickoff, and there were like 15,000 people standing three feet away from me on the sideline. It was just the weirdest feeling, and we’re standing in our own end zone to kick off.

Leach: I told [the kicker], “Just squib it to a fat guy,” and hoping the guy couldn’t field the thing. And the guy fields it like a shortstop. And then he pitches it to a real fast guy, and that guy drops it, and we win it.

There was no miracle to be had for the Longhorns, and once the horn sounded, the fans flooded onto the field. As Brent Musberger said, “No more penalties for this crowd.”

Leach: Oh, it was stormed, and it wasn’t slow, either. It was fast. I mean, WHAM!. There were people everywhere. Some guy stuck his cowboy hat on me.

Brown: I do remember that students were everywhere, and there were so many drunks out on the field that I couldn’t find Mike.

Reed: I’ve never seen Lubbock like that. It was something else.

Davis: It feels like a sucker punch. It’s kinda twofold … “OK, it’s a loss, the conference championship may be out the window, a chance at the national championship may be out the window.” And you realize how hard those things are to come by. And so, it even hurts worse. It’s a double-whammy.

The events afterward were memorable, too. Texas Tech defeated Oklahoma State the next week but was later crushed by Oklahoma. Coupled with Texas’ win over Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown, that left the Big 12 South in a three-way tie. The tiebreaker allowed Oklahoma into the conference title game, which the Sooners eventually parlayed into a BCS title game appearance. It created plenty of controversy in the pre-playoff era.

Reed: You have to credit Oklahoma for preparing. It seems like their defense knew exactly where we were gonna be … they were one step ahead. It was a bad night to be off, I’ll tell you that.

Charbonnet: We were beat up. … We had a lot of momentum, had that bye week and started thinking we were really good, and OU just came and popped us in the mouth.

Brown: They had what I still feel like today is the awful decision to not let us play in the championship game because we won head-to-head vs. Oklahoma, but it didn’t matter.

Leach: I remember saying what I still believe now: three-way tie, everybody’s all befuddled, how do you decide the three-way tie? … I said, “Let’s do it on graduation rate.” And nobody seemed very interested in that, which I think would be a great way to do it.

Texas capped off the season by beating Ohio State in a memorable Fiesta Bowl, while Texas Tech lost to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl. To this day, the game evokes memories from those involved and the millions who watched.

Applewhite [now head coach at Houston]: I thought about it when we went out there and played [Texas Tech] this year. I saw that corner of the end zone, and man, tough deal.

Morris: Probably the greatest moment in Texas Tech football history.

Riley: There was so much good pub and press for a place and a city that doesn’t always register a ton on the national scale. It was kinda like, “This is your moment. This is your chance to do it,” and we did it.

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