Outside the stadium, first responders were taking away the dead, and emergency crews were cleaning up an intersection where a car had ripped into a black-and-orange-clad crowd watching Oklahoma State’s homecoming parade.
Inside the stadium, the players prayed.
The school’s annual fall ceremonies came to a horrific halt hours before kickoff when a woman suspected of driving under the influence veered into the parade. Four were killed and dozens injured. The school considered postponing the game against Kansas, but ultimately decided to play and honor the victims.
The Cowboys bowed their heads in prayer before the coin flip. Flags flew at half-staff. The normally raucous crowd fell silent. And a seasonal Saturday ritual went on looking nothing like the celebration it was supposed to be.
Backup quarterback J.W. Walsh ran for three touchdowns and passed for two more, and No. 14 Oklahoma State defeated Kansas 58-10.
“We knew we still had our jobs to do, and we touched on it in our prayer before the game, that God was giving us this opportunity to shed a little light in some darkness,” Walsh said. “We were able to do that, and to maybe lighten the mood, just kind of take everybody away from it for a couple of hours.”
Fans walked past the intersection going into Boone Pickens Stadium and leaving it. Some lingered to look at the wreckage: water bottles, blankets, lawn chairs and other items strewn all over the intersection. A gray car with a smashed side and shattered windshield remained at the scene, as did a crumpled motorcycle.
National Guard troops kept watch as officials with the Red Cross and state medical examiner’s office continued their work.
The school president consulted with the Board of Regents, and the school contacted the Big 12 conference to discuss whether to hold the game. It would have been difficult to delay the start because it was televised, so officials decided to go forward and honor the victims, said university spokesman Gary Shutt.
“The decision was made that we’re going to play, and we’re going to remember the victims at the game,” OSU President Burns Hargis said at a news conference after the crash. “We’re going to move forward, but we will remember what happened today.”
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy acknowledged the tragedy wasn’t far from anyone’s mind.
“We were in football meetings when we found out about it and the first thing you do is you call and find out where your family is,” Gundy said. “Football all of a sudden isn’t as important.”
Coaches told the players right away. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said he didn’t know how the players would handle the news.
“To be honest with you, it wouldn’t have upset me if we hadn’t played today, but we did and the kids went out and played a game,” he said.
Against the somber backdrop, the Cowboys dominated early. They quickly forced Kansas into a 3-and-out on the contest’s opening possession. Then they marched 70 yards on eight plays, taking a 7-0 lead on Walsh’s 3-yard TD run with 2:50 gone in the first quarter.
Walsh made it 14-0 with 2:47 remaining in the first on a 1-yard run, holding the ball out over the pylon as he dove down the sideline on a third-and-goal situation.
Mason Rudolph completed 20 of 26 passes for 305 yards and had a touchdown for Oklahoma State (7-0, 4-0 Big 12). Kansas (0-7, 0-4) lost its 10th straight game overall and 36th on the road.
“This is just a football game,” KU coach David Beaty said. “As upset as I am right now (about the loss), it pales in comparison to what these families are going through. I can’t imagine.”
Sympathy came from all over college football on social media, where coaches, players and alums offered tweets of support. In Norman, the University of Oklahoma held a moment of silence for its rival before kicking off against Texas Tech.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, an OSU grad who was in attendance at the game, agreed with the decision to play.
“I think it is important for Oklahomans to be able to support each other, especially when our hearts are broken and we’re hurting,” Fallin said. “This is one of the ways we can be together and support each other during that time.”
Some fans left early, and others changed plans and decided to stay home once news of the crash began to spread. Sophomore Sam Trautman was in the crowd with friends, and noted the silence as the victims were remembered before kickoff.
“Normally, you can’t hear and if you want to talk you have to yell,” he said. “You could hear the people outside ordering their food from the concession stand.”