Even with a packed Mountaineer Field at the ready, an electric night in Morgantown could not will the West Virginia Mountaineers to victory. The Texas Longhorns kept their Big 12 title hopes alive in a hard-fought 47-40 overtime victory over the Mountaineers Saturday.
West Virginia and Texas both came out of the box rather slow in Saturday night's contest, with each team going three-and-out on their opening drives. However, the Mountaineers would soon find a way to break the game open in their favor.
With the Longhorns pinned deep into their own territory on fourth down, Coach Mack Brown set out the punt unit for what would seem to be a routine play. But a missed assignment by Texas allowed West Virginia's Jewone Snow allowed the linebacker to break through and block Anthony Fera's attempt. The ball would roll out of the end zone, giving West Virginia a safety and the first points of the game at 2-0.
From there, the Mountaineers would look to parlay momentum from the block and safety into a strong offensive drive. It started strong with Mario Alford returning the free kick 43 yards, giving West Virginia excellent field position to begin the drive.
Starting at the Texas 42-yard line, the Mountaineers would methodically move the ball deep into the red zone, aided by a pair of short passes going for large gains for Charles Sims and Kevin While.
With the ball now comfortably inside the ten, the Mountaineers let their workhorse running back take the load. Seeing several formations similar to that of Stanford, thanks in part to Coach Ron Crook, the Mountaineers punched the ball down the throats of Texas, ending with a three-yard touchdown run by Sims. The score put West Virginia up 9-0 with a mere four minutes completed in the contest.
Momentum would appear to stick on West Virginia's side when the defense returned to the field. After gaining 30 yards with rather ease, Longhorn running back Daje Johnson coughed up the ball at midfield, into the waiting arms of Jared Barber. The turnover put the Mountaineers on Texas' 46-yard line to open up the drive, which would eventually end in a three-and-out.
On the ensuing Texas drive, the Longhorns again appeared to get into an offensive rhythm, moving the ball into West Virginia territory. However, the Mountaineer's defense would step up yet again.
A completed pass to Longhorn receiver Mike Davis would be jolted lose thanks to a monstrous hit from K.J. Dillon. The ball would pop into the air where Nick Kwiatkoski snatched it for yet another Mountaineer turnover.
But again, the West Virginia offense could not find an answer to Texas' strong defensive front. A second-straight sack to Clint Trickett on third-and-long ended West Virginia's drive before it could even get started.
Although the Mountaineers failed to capitalize on two-straight possessions, the interception continued to highlight a rough start for the Longhorn offense. In their first three possessions, Texas recorded a trifecta of turnovers (safety, fumble and interception), keeping West Virginia up top through the first quarter.
The turnover bug would shift its focus towards West Virginia, however, late in the first quarter. After failing to pick up the pass rush on the previous two possessions, Texas again broke through with a big hit to Trickett. The quarterback, who was shaken up on the play, fumbled the ball where it was recovered by Longhorn defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat at the West Virginia 26-yard line.
Keith Patterson's defense would step up following the fumble, holding the Longhorns in short field to a mere field goal. The kick cut into West Virginia's lead late in the first quarter at 9-3.
Following the hit and fumble, Trickett headed to the sidelines where he would receive medical attention. With Trickett sidelined, Paul Millard entered the game for the Mountaineers, taking over an offense that failed to gain any traction on the previous two series'.
But even with Millard at the helm, the Mountaineers would record their third-straight three-and-out, punting the ball back to Texas as the quarter came to a close.
Millard would return to the field after West Virginia's defense forced another three-and-out, but again the results would be less than spectacular. Mirroring the Trickett play from earlier in the game, Texas would pressure Millard and strip the ball from the junior quarterback. Longhorn Cedric Reed would recover the fumble at the West Virginia 27-yard line, giving Texas tremendous field position yet again.
Five plays later, Texas running back Malcolm Brown would power into the end zone on third-and-short for the Longhorn's first touchdown. The score gave Texas the lead at 10-9 with just under 11:00 remaining in the half.
It would take several possessions before either team showed any offensive output, but thanks to Millard that team would be West Virginia. After going 0-5 on his first two series, Millard looked like a completely different quarterback on his third attempt, going 3-3 on the drive with impressive zip behind his passes.
Thanks to short field after a sloppy Texas punt, the Mountaineers took over at their own 49-yard line. Utilizing a mixture of short crossing patters and off-tackle runs, Millard led his offense 51-yards in five plays, ending with a six-yard touchdown run by Sims. With the score, West Virginia retook the lead, holding a 16-10 advantage midway through the second quarter.
Following another Texas three-and-out, Millard would again get his opportunity on offense, but this time with much less success. After evading pressure on the previous drive, the Longhorns brought the house on Millard, sandwiching him between two players and forcing another fumble. Texas would recover the fumble at the West Virginia seven-yard line.
But again, Keith Patterson's defense would step up when it was needed the most. The Mountaineers pushed back the Longhorns, holding them to a field goal and maintaining a lead at 16-13.
On the ensuing West Virginia drive, the Mountaineers appeared to find their offensive rhythm once again. With more timely play calling, putting the ball into the hands of playmakers such as Sims, West Virginia moved the ball with relative ease into the red zone. But with the clock ticking under a minute, the Mountaineers struggled to find the end zone in short field.
Ultimately, Josh Lambert would take to the field, connecting on a short field goal to end the half. The kick gave West Virginia a 19-13 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.
Exiting the locker room at halftime, much of the same would be seen from those in attendance in Morgantown. The West Virginia defense came out strong, first on the Longhorn's opening drive, holding them to a three-and-out, and again in the red zone after a Millard tipped ball interception gave Texas excellent field position once again.
But Coach Patterson's squad would step up in the red zone once again, holding the Longhorns to another short field goal and picking up the slack for the entire squad. The field goal cut into West Virginia's lead once more, 19-16.
Not to be outdone by strong defense, the West Virginia offense showed yet again how effective he could be running the offense at times. The junior quarterback led the Mountaineers on one of the longest offensive drives of the season - a nine play, 91-yard drive, ending with a one-yard Sims touchdown. The score for Sims gave him his third of the night and push West Virginia's lead to two possessions - 26-16.
The Longhorns would finally find themselves some offensive success on the ensuing drive thanks to the passing game. After converting a pair of crucial third downs, Case McCoy would find a wide-open Davis deep, hitting him in stride and ending with a touchdown. West Virginia maintained the advantage, however, 26-23.
Texas would finally break through on the scoreboard in the second half, ending a seven play, 67-yard drive with an eight-yard touchdown run by Joe Bergeron. The score gave the Longhorns a 30-26 advantage as the third quarter came to a close.
But West Virginia would come roaring back. Aided by a deep 31-yard completion to Kevin White, the Mountaineers pushed the ball back into the shadow of Texas' end zone.
Three plays later, running back Dreamius Smith would follow a strong block by Sims, running around and between a pair of Longhorn defenders for the 8-yard touchdown run. The score put West Virginia back on top, 33-30, with a minute gone in the fourth quarter.
When West Virginia's defense took to the field on the following drive, it appeared that the Mountaineers would have ample opportunities to halt the Longhorn's progress. But bad mistakes, such as a Darwin Cook interception being called back due to defensive holding, kept the Longhorns plugging away with new life.
Texas would end its 11-play, 66-yard drive with a diving catch from Jaxon Shipley in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown. With the score Texas retook the lead, 37-33, with 8:57 remaining in the contest.
At this point in the contest, the lead seemingly changed from series to series, prompted by one or two big plays per drive. For the Mountaineers on this drive, it would be in the hands of Mario Alford.
The junior receiver, who entered the season with a ton of hype surrounding his breakaway speed, put those skills to good use, catching a short slant pass and taking it 72-yards to the house. With the touchdown, West Virginia went back on top yet again, this time up 40-37.
After a huge defensive stand by the Mountaineers, Millard returned to the field with just over six minutes remain and one goal in mind - manage the clock. A big third-and-six conversion on the ground by Sims to open up the drive helped give the Mountaineers hope for victory.
But on the following set of downs, the Longhorns managed to stop Smith on third-and-one, forcing a punt and putting the game into Texas' hands with 2:35 remaining.
It would take several advances on the ground for the Longhorns to reach West Virginia territory, but once they did it appeared the Mountaineers had their number. Texas was looking at the barrel of a fourth-and-seven from the 45-yard line with the game seemingly on the line.
But a raucous Morgantown crowd would not faze McCoy and the Longhorns. An eight-yard hitch route to Shipley gave the Longhorns the much-needed conversion and kept their hopes alive.
Two plays later, running back Malcolm Brown would give Texas the yards they needed to safely get in field goal range.
After stopping the Longhorn's advances on three plays, Texas called on their kicker Kera to convert a short field goal for overtime. The kick would sail through the uprights, sending the two teams into extra time, tied at 40.
West Virginia won the overtime coin toss and chose to start the period on defense. This gave the Longhorns first opportunity to strike, which they did in short order.
Aided by a crucial 14-yard reception by Marcus Johnson on third-and-four, the Longhorns pushed the ball inside the West Virginia three. Three plays later, McCoy connected with fullback Alex De La Torre on the play action bootleg for the touchdown.
With Texas finding the end zone, the Mountaineers would have to hit pay dirt in order to salvage a potential victory. And early indications looked favorable for West Virginia, thanks to the speed of Alford. The junior receiver took the handoff from a double-reverse 20 yards, down to the Texas five.
But beyond that play, the Mountaineers struggled to find any momentum. Faced with a fourth-and-goal for the game, Millard tossed the ball into the end zone where it would be picked off, ending the contest.
Final Score: Texas 47, West Virginia 40.
The Mountaineers will return to action next Saturday as they travel to Lawrence, KS to take on the Kansas Jayhawks. Kickoff is at noon.