EL PASO, Texas - It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Oregon State came back from a 14-point deficit with just more than 6 minutes to go, to beat Missouri 39-38 on a two-point conversion with 23 seconds on the clock.
Junior defensive tackle Ziggy Hood screamed obscenities on the sideline, looking crushed and not knowing how to take out his anger.
Other linemen pounded the cheap black plastic chairs into the ground, unable to contain their rage after another close loss to end their season. Defensive lineman Josh Barbo had tears streaming from his eyes, dragging trails of eye black down his cheek as he slammed things around, yelling out, “This isn’t supposed to happen!” as his tears continued to pour onto the turf.
Xzavie Jackson, a senior defensive end and an emotional leader of the team, headed back toward the sideline after the play and made his way through his teammates back to an aluminum bench set up for the players.
As he removed his helmet, you could see that he wasn’t going to be visibly angry. Instead, he wore a pained expression, and tears began to flow from his eyes. He mouthed the words “not again” as he dropped his head, not believing what had just happened to the team.
Missouri had a few ticks of the clock to get down field but was unable to score as fans stared on in disbelief. The desperation laterals didn’t come close to giving Missouri the score it needed.
The blaze orange-clad Beaver crowd erupted as the ball hit the turf, and players and coaches trotted to midfield to shake hands.
Jackson, though, just sat on the cold metal bench with his head in his hands, continuing to cry. Bits of the field turf and white paint from the field stuck to his legs and his skullcap was soaked through with sweat. His gray gloves shielded his face, but drips made their way through, sneaking out with his gold-dyed beard.
Some fans stuck around, hurling insults at the massive lineman sunk on the bench. “Go get your (expletive) medal,” a man in his mid-forties yelled as Jackson continued to cry. The group of fans around him cackled, and he just sat there, his body rocking back and forth as the taunts continued to pelt him.
A man in a suit came over, wrapped his arm around Jackson’s broad shoulders, and led him to midfield to accept the Jimmy Rogers Jr. award for the game’s most valuable lineman.
The fans took their last shot at Jackson, and then the officiating, before trudging up the long and narrow cement steps. Jackson and teammate Jeff Wolfert, who won the award for most valuable special teams player, kneeled on the giant Brut logo and watched Oregon State coach Mike Reilly and quarterback Matt Moore, who was booed just weeks ago, jubilantly hoist the golden football-shaped trophy above their heads and thank the fans for such a great season.
When Jackson finally received his award, he stumbled through a quick, "Thank you" and headed toward the locker room. Jackson barely glanced at the award, lowering it to the side so he could again wipe at his bloodshot eyes and tear-stained cheeks.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel looked grim in the post game news conference, tightly pursing his lips and clenching his jaw in between questions. His eyes were glassy, mirroring those of running back Tony Temple and quarterback Chase Daniel, who joined him at the table.
Pinkel talked about how he was disappointed and with how things ended and blamed himself for the loss. As he talked about the locker room being a tough place to be, Temple and Daniel glanced at each other, and went back to staring at the ceiling, blinking quickly and trying to hold back the tears that were still in their eyes as Oregon State fans honked horns and cheered outside the media tent.
The conference ended and players trickled out of the locker room. Dedrick Harrington, middle linebacker and one of the team’s captains, came out in sweats and a white towel draped over his head. His eyes were red, but he was composed and answered reporters’ questions. After recounting plays and situations and what was going on to waves of camera crews and reporters with voice recorders shoved toward his face, a few tears escaped and he moved quickly to brush them away.
“It’s hard, but you’ve just got to move on,” Harrington said and then sniffed. “You thank God for blessing you, regardless of the outcome. You’re blessed to play the game of football, so you just try to learn from it and move on.”
Mike Cook, a guard on the offensive line and a team captain, came out changed and showered, but his eyes were still dripping. He called the loss “heartbreaking” as the tears dotted his fresh gray Missouri football shirt.
In the background, safety David Overstreet answered a child’s question about why he broke a chair on the sideline. Temple, who was named player of the game by CBS before the shocking turn of events to end the game, rubbed his head and face while the post-game conference was going on, was asked if the game was bittersweet for him.
He broke the Sun Bowl’s record for rushing yards, set in 1977 by LSU’s Charles Alexander. He dropped back down to 194 on the next carry, but it still was enough to break Missouri’s bowl record and set a new personal best.
Pausing a moment, he looked out at the reporters. “Sometimes, things don’t work out your way,” he said. “Sometimes, things just happen.”