- West Virginia played with reckless abandon in Austin and came out the other side in control of its Big 12 title hopes.
For years, the Big 12 Conference has centered its brand around powerful offenses, rolling up chunks of yards at every opportunity, leaving defensive coordinators struggling to come up with schemes just to slow teams down.
That reputation held true on Saturday, as West Virginia kept hope very much alive for its conference and College Football Playoff aspirations with a wild 42–41 win over Texas in Austin in front of a record crowd at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. And of course, with everything on the line, the Mountaineers put the game in the hands of their offense: The winning points came from quarterback Will Grier’s two-point conversion run after Grier found Gary Jennings Jr. for a 33-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left.
Grier, who threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, responded to a late touchdown by Longhorns receiver Devin Duvernay by leading the Mountaineers on a flawless final drive, a seven-play, 75 march through a Texas defense that had been stout for most of the second half.
The fireworks in this high-octane, penalty-filled affair started early in the first quarter after a one-yard run by Sam Ehlinger for the game’s first touchdown.
This started a run of seven straight possessions in which a touchdown was scored. West Virginia got in on the act less than 90 seconds after the Longhorns’ first score when Grier found his favorite target David Sills V running wide open down the seam for a 60-yard strike, giving the Mountaineers a 10–7 lead.
The touchdown scoring barrage ended when Evan Staley nailed a 44-yard field goal to end the first half with the Longhorns clinging to a 28–27 edge. The lead changed hands seven times in he first two quarters.
The action slowed considerably in the second half as the defenses tightened up, and both teams were stopped short on fourth-and-ones deep in opposing territory. The only points of the third quarter came from a 22-yard field goal from Texas kicker Cameron Dicker.
Ehlinger went 24 for 34 for a season-high 356 yards and three touchdowns, and has not thrown an interception in a school record 246 attempts, but his touchdown pass to Duvernay with 2:34 left proved to leave Grier with too much time to work his magic.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said during his on-field postgame interview that as soon as Texas scored, he informed his team that he would be going for two and the win if the Mountaineers scored a potential game-tying touchdown. The decision was far from a secret to anyone who has followed Holgorsen’s free-wheeling personality, but it took guts all the same.
What also took guts: Taking two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for giving the “Horns Down” hand sign to the stands after scoring, as Sills did in the first half and Grier did when he ran in the two-point conversion. The latter flag gave Texas good enough field position to dream of a game-tying field goal, but the Mountaineers’ defense held firm.
Texas, which has now lost two straight conference games, will now need some serious help to get back into the Big 12 title hunt. West Virginia closes with TCU, Oklahoma State and a showdown in Morgantown against Oklahoma that could decide first place in the league—but could be merely a prelude to a rematch in Arlington the following week for the Big 12 crown.