The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

January 5, 2014

Ruthenberg: Gritty Chelf did Enid proud

In a perfect world, it wouldn’t have ended like that. Not with Enid’s Clint Chelf turning it over. It all seemed so wrong, so unfair. The back-and-forth, rollercoaster ride Friday night in Texas at the Cotton Bowl was much like Chelf’s career at OSU: Ups, downs, moments of glory and moments of frustration. And, if anybody deserved to finish his career with a signature win it surely should have been Chelf, and certainly not on the wrong end of a gut-wrenching 41-31 loss to Missouri.

Throughout the entire game, Chelf led OSU back time and again. The Cowboys trailed 17-7 at half and seemed disjointed. But we had seen that before, such as in the Bedlam game when OSU rallied for a near-storybook ending after struggling throughout most of the game.

The Cowboys took on the personality of their quarterback and their quarterback took them on his shoulders, doing everything he could to pull out a win. Still, Bedlam ended with a crushing late loss to the Sooners.

 Surely, the gods would smile down upon Chelf and the Cowboys finally Friday night in Texas and not let the same fate befall OSU again. But, the football gods are a fickle and unpredictable lot.

Chelf rallied OSU back to tie the game at 17-17 and then again 24-24 in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard touchdown run, and when he stretched out parallel to the ground and touched the nose of the football to the end zone pylon, it likely set up several chiropractic appointments for Monday morning back in his hometown as Enid sports fans were probably making that stretch with him, willing him into the end zone. On this night, it didn’t matter if you were an OU or OSU fan. In Enid, you were a Clint Chelf fan.

Chelf again rallied the team back from another deficit to take a 31-27 lead, but the Tigers responded  and went back up 34-31. But OSU, and Chelf, appeared destined for a final last-minute comeback and were moving swiftly downfield, slowed only by the officiating crew’s bungling and having to stop play to make sure they had the clock working right.

Then it happened.

Missouri’s All-SEC defensive end Michael Sam got around the OSU lineman on Chelf’s blindside, and stripped the ball from Chelf’s hands at the Missouri 27-yard line, and as defensive lineman Shane Ray picked up the ball and went 73 yards the other way for a touchdown, the season was over. Just like that.

It was testament to Chelf’s leadership though that a final, potential game-winning OSU comeback seemed not just likely, but probable. It seemed like a done deal.

“You know, we felt good,” Chelf said after the game about the  final OSU drive. “We felt like we rallied, came back and were going to drive down and take it.”

It was just that kind of confidence OSU seemed to display with Chelf at the helm. He led OSU to six straight wins as a starter down the stretch, persevering after being yanked from the starter’s role in the opening game. He never gave up though, and it paid off for him and the team in a successful season as OSU finished 10-3.

Chelf, a fifth-year senior, capped his season Friday night by finishing 33 of 57 passing for 381 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 48 yards, including that Kodak-moment 23-yard touchdown run in the Cotton Bowl. His 57 passing attempts set an OSU bowl record and his 381 yards were the second-highest in OSU bowl history behind only Brandon Weeden’s 399 yards in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl against Stanford. Chelf’s combined 578 passing yards in the Cotton Bowl and last year’s Heart of Dallas Bowl are the fourth-highest career bowl total for a Cowboy.

But Chelf’s career cannot simply be condensed into numbers. You can’t measure grit, guts and determination with a calculator, something he displayed plenty of throughout his career, right up until the final gun sounded Friday night.

OSU head coach Mike Gundy, who many questioned for his decision to bench Chelf early in the season, had strong praise for Chelf after the game. “He busts his butt all the time …” Gundy said. “I think the people from Oklahoma State will always have great respect for him and just the way things transpired.”

And while the season finale didn’t transpire as hoped, it didn’t detract at all from Chelf’s accomplishments and his lasting legacy,

Throughout a wild, rocky final two years in Stillwater, Chelf remained above the fray. On and off the field he displayed the stoicism and grit Enidites expect and admire, and in the end, he made his hometown proud. Damned proud.

Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at daver@enidnews.com.

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