The Big 12 Championship game between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday evening delivered the kind of controversy-mired barn burner that inspires legions of college football fans to pack stadiums and jam sports bars every weekend.
But the real competition, it turned out, was not between the football teams (Texas won a one-sided 49-21 affair), but between two college students competing in the Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway challenge at halftime, a college football tradition.
Each student had to lob as many footballs as they could into their respective Dr Pepper-branded bin five yards away within the allotted time.
Ryan Georgian, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, and Gavin White, a junior at Ohio State University, were tied at 10 points each at the end of regulation, forcing overtime.
They each had another 15-second period to pull ahead for the victory.
At the whistle, they dipped into their stash of footballs and hurled them from chest level at the opening in the bin, each miss ricocheting forcefully off the target, like corn popping in a kettle.
At the last second, Georgian tied the score at 16, forcing a sudden-death shootout in a second overtime period.
Georgian would go on to win, but fans quickly pointed out that there was a problem.
The game should not have gone to double overtime, fans complained and Dr Pepper later acknowledged.
A review of the video showed Georgian only added five points to his score in the first time period. He was credited with six, enough to force the tie.
Online, the college football world roared. Fans cried foul and pleaded for the soft drink giant to serve “Justice for Gavin.”
Not long after, Dr Pepper said it would rectify the situation.
“In a dramatic double OT Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway during the Big 12 Conference championship game, an on-field technical error resulted in an inaccurate accounting of the double tie break,” the company said in a statement, which did not elaborate about what went wrong.
“As such, Dr Pepper will recognize both finalists as grand prize winners with both receiving the 100k award in tuition,” the statement continued.
White directed questions to Dr Pepper’s public relations team, and Georgian could not be reached.
In video pitches submitted to Dr Pepper, the students made their case for a chance to compete for the scholarship.
Judges selected the contestants based on their video submissions, using a rubric that assessed their goals and financial need.
Georgian, a business major, said the tuition money would help him achieve his goal of becoming a social entrepreneur, while paying for his sister’s tuition and treatment for her rare blood disease.
For his part, White, an aspiring meteorologist, used weather forecast graphics to paint a gloomy outlook for his college debt: rising out-of-state tuition, pesky loans and high interest rates.
“This scholarship could bring in some sunshine to help push out some of this bad weather,” he said.
Fans online celebrated what they saw as a just outcome, some taking credit for putting the pressure on Dr Pepper.
“Jokes aside I think our tweets forced Dr Pepper’s hand,” wrote one fan. “Thanks to all who contributed and got the word out.”
Jack Begg contributed research.