Big 12 Sports.com Correspondent
LUBBOCK - No matter what the results are at the polls Tuesday, Texas Tech has a winning ticket - Harrell and Crabtree.
The school has been promoting quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree with an election-themed web site. With a program-defining and season-making game left to one final fling, Harrell's 28-yard touchdown pass to a not-to-be-denined Harrell gave Texas Tech the electoral votes needed for a hard-to-believe 39-33 victory over No. 1 Texas.
"I know it's political, but I think you guys need to put Graham on your Heisman ballots," Mike Leach said Saturday after a game that had so many mood swings it needed a bucket of Prozac.
An exit poll with 1:29 remaining had the Longhorns as the mircacle team. Facing injuries, adversity and dropped passes, Texas took its first lead of the game when Colt McCoy drove Texas 80 yards in 11 plays. The drive, capped by Vondrell McGee's four-yard run, took 4:16. For UT fans, it needed to be longer.
"I don't do big picture questions," Leach said when asked the importance of the victory. "Play 60 minutes is obviously important, you may have a second to spare."
The outcome might have determined the Heisman Trophy (co-winners anyone?) and the national championship race.
Whoops and hollers could be heard in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and State College, Pa., when Crabtree spun away from two Texas defenders and found the end zone. No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Penn State, both undefeated, likely will move up one spot with the Texas loss.
Some questions: How high will Texas Tech, one of three undefeated teams in BCS conferences, jump? How far will Texas fall? Will Okalhoma - a loser to the Longhorns and an impressive 62-21 winner over Nebraska Saturday - be ranked ahead of Texas? How high will Florida rise after its blow out defeat of Georgia?
Those answers can wait until the human polls are tabulated and the computer hard drives stop humming Sunday afternoon. Until then, savor the three hours and 38 minutes before a record crowd (56,333) at AT&T Jones Stadium.
Playing its fourth consecutive game against a highly ranked team, Texas didn't have an empty gas tank emotionally. Karma? Luck? Nope; the guage was on "E."
The Longhorns forced a punt on Texas Tech's first possession. Good.
The punt was downed at the Texas 2-yard line. Bad
The first play from an I formation resulted in a safety when nose tackle Colby Whitlock knifed through the slant blocking of UT's offensive line and stoned running back Chris Obbonnaya for a safety.
"Our coaches told us all week that they don't fire off the line on their zone blocking," said Whitlock, a sophomore. "Our mindset was attack, attack, attack."
On Texas' second possession, McCoy's first pass went to Quan Cosby. He injured his back on the reception and was limited the rest of the game. With 9:07 remaining in the third quarter, defensive end sack master Brian Orakpo was sidelined with an injured his left knee.
"It was just one of those nights when many things didn't go right," Brown said.
Less than two minutes after Orakpo went down, McCoy's pass to the left flat was intercepted by Texas Tech safety Daniel Charbonnet. He returned it 18 yards for a touchdown to give Texas Tech a 29-13 lead.
"They had been running that play a lot," said Charbonnet, who has five interceptions. "I just kind of hung out in the flat. I kinda baited him to throw it."
Texas Tech dominated the first half but only had a 22-6 lead at the break. Before 72-yard drive produced a half-ending field goal, the Longhorns had just 36 yards in offense. The Red Raiders' defensive front pressured McCoy, sacking him and forcing him from the pocket. The secondary yielded few openings.
But there was a sense that Texas could make it a game. The Longhorns got a lift when Jordan Shipley, on his first punt return of the season, returned Tech's first punt of the second half 45 yards for a touchdown.
Matt Williams, The Accidental Kicker, made his first two field goals. The first, a 29-yarder, followed the safety and gave the Red Raiders a 5-0 lead. The second, from 31 yards, capped Texas Tech's first half and gave Texas Tech a 22-3 lead. He also made three extra points and is perfect on 12 attempts in two games.
However, his first miss - a 42-yarder - was blocked. Instead of extending 29-19 lead, the Red Raiders were stunned when McCoy found Malcolm Williams for a 91-yard touchdown that made it 29-26 with 11 minutes remaining.
Texas Tech responded with a 55-yard, 13-play drive but it only produced a field goal. This time, Leach went with freshman Donnie Carona, the kicker who had been replaced by Matt Williams, made a 42-yarder with 5:15 remaining.
The Longhorns counter punched. The offense found its rhythm. McCoy completed four of five passes and carried twice for 11 yards on the Longhorns' drive that made it 33-32.
"We had a lot of problems but to (the Longhorns) credit they kept fighting back," Brown said. "All we did was score too quick at the end."
Texas Tech's game-winning drive almost became a disaster. The play before Harrell found Crabtree, his scrambling throw bounced off Edward Britton. Texas freshman safety Blake Gideon dropped it.
"It's unbelievable," Brown said. "We got our hands on the ball to win the game the play before they win it and we drop it."
Coaches from Rockne to Bryant to Royal will tell you when the game is on the line, run your best play with your best player. In Texas Tech's case, it was players.
Harrell threw a deep fade, a pass he has thrown to Crabtree thousands of times. The passer and the receiver read the coverage of the defensive back. In this case, Harrell saw that the defensive back had turned his head. That called for a pass thrown short.
"Graham threw it behind me and I had to attack the ball," said Crabtree, who finished with 10 catches for 127 yards. "Before we went on the field, I was dreaming that I would catch a pass to win it. And it happened."
Thousands of students poured on to the field but they committed three false starts before the extra point and final kickoff. The celebration was the culmination of a week of anticipation.
"Raiderville" had a week-long population of about 3,000 as students camped out to be among the first into the stadium. An estimated 15,000 showed up for ESPN's College GameDay two-hour show Saturday morning. The student government handed out 4,000 eye patches to trade off Leach's infatuation with pirates. Representatives from the Sugar, Orange and Rose bowls were in attendance.
Guess what? There won't be as many extras when Oklahoma State - which improved to 8-1 with a 59-17 victory over Iowa State - visits Lubbock next Saturday night for another ABC national telecast. But that game will be just as important for Texas Tech as the previous nine.
"We can play with anyone in the country, we can beat anyone in the country," said Harrell, who completed 36 of 53 passes for 474 yards and two touchdowns. "But we can get beat by anyone."
And that is a sentiment that is as bipartisan as it is politically correct.