Crabtree, Red Raiders legitimize status on national scene
LUBBOCK, Texas -- Eight seconds remained on the clock, eight seconds left in a game that appeared to defy the laws of college football.
No. 7 Texas Tech had dominated No. 1 Texas on Saturday night. The Red Raiders had walled off the Longhorns' running game. They had sacked Colt McCoy four times. They had intercepted him and returned the ball for a touchdown. Texas receivers had dropped five passes in the first half alone.
Yet somehow, Texas led 33-32.
Texas Tech had gained 551 yards, had held the ball almost 37 minutes and had won the turnover battle. (Texas had two, Texas Tech had one.) The Red Raiders had the home crowd, the biggest (56,333) in the history of Jones AT&T Stadium. Texas Tech had the ball on the Texas 28, and by all that is right and true, the Red Raiders should have needed only to take a knee.
They had everything they needed to get the school's first victory over a No. 1 team in history. Texas Tech also would earn the school's 500th victory, and the victory would legitimize the Red Raiders in the minds of those who bow to tradition.
They had everything but points. To get the points, the Red Raiders needed yards. But for all the offensive luxuries that Texas Tech possesses, none of them includes a field goal kicker who's dependable beyond 30 yards.
On the previous play, Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell had scrambled to his left and flipped a pass to wide receiver Edward Britton. The ball had sailed off Britton's hands into the breadbasket of Texas defensive back Blake Gideon -- and out again. The ball fell to the turf.
Crabtree had already caught 70 passes for 893 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. But he hadn't caught a touchdown Saturday night.
"On the sideline, I dreamed that I would catch a pass and go in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown," Crabtree said afterward. "But I do that every game."
Harrell called a fade, a pass when the sideline is a receiver's friend. A fade pass thrown correctly can't be defensed.
"That's the basis of this offense, the vertical passing game," Harrell said. "That's a vertical we threw blind. And we do that time and time again. We practice that every day in practice. We practice going over the top on the fade [throwing over the receiver's head] and the throw-behind. On that one, the corner wasn't looking. If he's not looking, throw it behind his head and let the receiver make a play."
You have to understand the relationship between Harrell and Crabtree. Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill recalled spending an hour on the StairMaster this past summer while Harrell and Crabtree practiced in the stifling West Texas heat.
"I saw them do it for over an hour," McNeill said. "I don't know how many routes you can run in a hour, but that's a lot of routes."
This time, Crabtree started down the field. Harrell saw that Brown had his back turned to him. Crabtree caught the ball inside the 5-yard line. He planted his foot and pivoted. He didn't go out of bounds.
Brown slid off him. When Crabtree pivoted, Thomas, the safety, ran past him. He ran into the end zone. Crabtree had made his sideline dream come true.
"It happened!" Crabtree said, his voice revealing his delight. "It kind of shocked me."
The Red Raiders celebrated behind the north end zone, and either they or the fans who rushed the field caused Texas Tech to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. After the fans cleared the field, Matt Williams kicked the extra point. As the fans rushed the field again, Tech was assessed another penalty.
Texas Tech had to kick off from its 7-yard line. Texas hoped to fair catch so that the clock would not start ticking down and the Longhorns would have one more play to win. But a squib kick forced their hand. When the fans rushed the field this time, they drew no penalty flags. They just celebrated Texas Tech's 39-33 win.
"I was proud of our guys because we didn't play consistently well tonight," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We had a lot of problems, and to their credit, they kept fighting back. All we did was score too quick at the end. We should have taken more time off the clock."
As the Red Raiders began that final drive, that thought even crossed head coach Mike Leach's mind "a little bit," he said after the game. That's a rare admission of emotion from a head coach who, like most of them, preaches focusing on the task at hand. The rest of the time, he refused to discuss the import of the game. Leach reminded one and all that No. 9 Oklahoma State would be in Lubbock on Saturday.
"Now the biggest game in history is Oklahoma State, in the history of this year," Leach said.
Texas is relegated to hoping that its six-point road loss to a top-10 team will look better than Florida's one-point home loss to an unranked team.
"When you lose, it's tough," said McCoy, who finished 20-of-34 for 294 yards, two touchdowns and that one interception that safety Daniel Charbonnet took 18 yards for a Red Raiders touchdown. "That's a hard thing to deal with, but this team is awesome and this team fought. We didn't play good, but we fought until the end."
No matter what McCoy achieves during the rest of his football career, no matter how many games he wins, passes he completes or Heismans he lifts, he will remember every single play of what transpired Saturday night.
For players, the victories fade from memory. The losses never do.
For fans, however, the victories don't fade. Car horns honked for two hours after the game, well into Sunday morning. The first victory over a No. 1 team and the 500th victory in Texas Tech history will be pressed into the Red Raiders' family bible. Texas Tech dominated -- and survived.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com. His new book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.