All week, the Texas Longhorns talked about the importance of finishing their up-and-down season on a high note.
After ending the regular season with two consecutive losses that dropped them to 8-4, Coach Mack Brown and his players knew a defeat in the Alamo Bowl would make for a long offseason.
When Brown suspended two players on Thursday for violating team rules, many wondered how the Longhorns would handle the distraction.
But UT responded to the challenge, rallying for a 31-27 victory against Oregon State in the 20th Alamo Bowl on Saturday night at the Alamodome.
The game-winning play came on a 36-yard pass from sophomore David Ash to senior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin with 2:24 left.
"They bit on the double moves and I just escaped them," Goodwin said. "Ash threw a great ball, and touchdown."
A crowd of 65,277, the fourth largest in the history of the Alamo Bowl, watched one of the most exciting games of the bowl season.
"The guys believed tonight, believed in each other, believed in our preparation, and played as hard as they could," Ash said. "It was a lot of fun and I just couldn't be more thankful."
With the Longhorns down 20-10 at halftime and struggling to muster any momentum, Brown challenged his players to "make the move" toward setting a higher standard for the team.
"They've got the momentum," Brown said, recounting what he told the Longhorns. "And for us to win this game, we're going to have to have everybody jump in and do their job, and do the best that they can possibly do. But this is what we need. We need a tough win against a top team to get back in the mix, so we can get confidence for all these guys coming back."
Goodwin, Okafor earn MVP honors
Given the adversity they faced this season, perhaps it was fitting that the Longhorns had to scratch and claw to avoid heading into the offseason with a three-game losing streak.
UT, which only three seasons ago played in the BCS title game, finished 9-4. The Longhorns were 8-5 last year after going 5-7 in 2010. They went 13-1 in 2009, with the only loss coming against Alabama in the BCS championship game.
Oregon State, which led 27-17 heading into the fourth quarter, also finished 9-4.
Goodwin was named the game's Offensive MVP and end Alex Okafor, who set an Alamo Bowl record with 4.5 sacks, garnered Defensive MVP honors.
Okafor, a senior, led a defense that set an Alamo Bowl record with 10 sacks.
"It's always great to end the season on a good note, and that's what we did tonight," Okafor said. "We're going to use this game as a stepping stone."
Ash's scoring strike to Goodwin came one play after Gray picked up three yards on a fourth-and-one. Ash came up big in the fourth quarter, completing 9 of 11 passes for 146 yards and two TDs.
Ash finished with 21 completions in 33 attempts for 214 yards and the two TDs. He was intercepted once.
Trailing by 10 at halftime, the Longhorns came to life after cornerback Quandre Diggs intercepted a pass by Cody Vaz at the OSU 49 and returned the pick three yards.
Goodwin also scored on 64-yard reverse
Nine plays later, Ash scored an 11-yard TD on a quarterback draw and Nick Jordan kicked the extra point to trim the Beavers' lead to 20-17 with 5:17 remaining in the third quarter.
UT's momentum continued to build when it forced a three-and-out on OSU's next possession, but disaster struck the Longhorns when linebacker Feti Unga intercepted an Ash pass at the UT 44.
Starting at the Longhorns' 42 after Unga's 2-yard return, the Beavers covered the distance in five plays. Storm Woods' 2-yard TD run around right end, combined with Trevor Romaine's conversion kick, put OSU ahead 27-17 with nine seconds left in the third quarter.
UT stormed back on its ensuing possession, mounting a nine-play, 83-drive that was capped by a 15-yard scoring strike from Ash to Gray. Ash was chased out of the pocket by a heavy rush and was running to his left when he lofted the TD pass to Gray, a freshman.
"I think at that point, you just start reacting," Ash said, referring to throwing on the run. "It's not really designed that way, just kind of happens that way. J. Gray could have given up on his route, but he kept wheeling up the sideline and did what he was coached to do, so he showed some discipline there.
"That was awesome. Whenever players play hard and have a little freedom to play, they'll make plays for you. So he did, and I appreciate it."
Jordan's kick after Gray's TD reception cut the deficit to 27-24 with 8:18 left.
Goodwin, who competed in the London Summer Olympics this summer, caught four passes for 68 yards, but he also burned the Beavers with a 64-yard TD on a reverse that tied the game 10-10 one play into the second quarter.
But OSU scored 10 unanswered points on its next two possessions to take a 20-10 lead at the half.
Romaine kicked a 29-yard field goal to put the Beavers ahead 13-10 Woods scored on a 9-yard run up the middle with 3:46 left in the second period.
Okafor set up field goal by causing fumble
Oregon State took a 3-0 lead on a 29-yard field goal by Romaine with 9:12 left in the first quarter.
Romaine's kick came five plays after defensive end Scott Crichton blocked a 46-yard field-goal attempt by Jordan. Unga returned the kick 14 yards before he pitched the ball to free safety Ryan Murphy, who went another 23 yards to the UT 37.
Okafor poked the ball out of Vaz's hand on the first play of the Beavers' next possession, causing a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Cedric Reed at the OSU 26.
After the Longhorns could get only three yards in three plays, Jordan booted a 40-yard field goal that tied the game 3-3 with 6:46 left in the opening quarter.
The Beavers scored on their next possession, carving out a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Woods' 12-yard run up the middle with 1:33 remaining in the period. Romaine's extra-point kick put OSU ahead 10-3.
But the Beavers lead was shortlived.
After an offsides penalty on a punt gave UT a first down at its 36 on the ensuing possession, Goodwin went left after taking the pitch on the reverse and sprinted down the sideline for the TD. His score capped a four-play, 75-yard drive.
"He played a great game tonight," Brown said of Goodwin. "We challenged all of our players to make sure that our seniors left happy and had a happy dressing room, and that's happening in there tonight."