West Virginia Finishes the Season the Right Way
Ft. Worth, TX – The West Virginia Mountaineers (5-7, 3-6) pulled off another upset with a season-ending 20-17 win over the Texas Christian Horned Frogs (5-7, 3-6). That’s not your conventional upset with TCU not being nationally ranked and with the loss, they finish the year under .500 but according to Las Vegas, the Mountaineers were double-digit underdogs going into the game.
West Virginia gave plenty of reasons throughout the season for TCU to be the heavy favorite. The Mountaineers are 129th out of 130 teams in rushing and notoriously dropping passes, especially in crucial situations, added up to only averaging 20.6 points per game.
However, West Virginia found a way to grind out another win on the road despite all their flaws.
“It’s big for us in this first year of us building a program playing a lot of young guys,” said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. “Credit to our staff, especially on defense – had a great plan. Really, Vic and the defensive staff have given us a chance all year. Guys have bought in. We’ve been able to get pressure and I think our defensive front has been the difference. We flew around today. We only gave up one touchdown against their offense. And they’d been good running the ball and we kind of bent but we never broke in the second half and just hung around - hung around.”
The defense has been a huge positive towards the back end of the season, holding their opponents to 20 points or less in the final three games, two of which were on the road.
Safeties Tykee Smith and Sean Mahone hit TCU with a big play on their opening drive when Mahone separated Jalen Reagor from the ball and Smith snatched it out of the air and returned it down to the TCU 14-yard line.
West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege and the offense made TCU pay with a touchdown three plays later which was a big moment going up one of the best defenses in the Big 12.
The Horned Frogs set up their only touchdown of the game on a jet sweep to Tay Barber for 64 yards to the WVU 11 and later found paydirt on a third and one from the two.
TCU grabbed a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter after a 30-yard field goal from Jonathan Song.
The West Virginia offense ended the first quarter with only 25 yards of offense. Nonetheless, they responded on the ensuing drive.
The Mountaineers began the drive with a swing pass to Leddie Brown to the right then followed it to the left for 37 yards. Then TJ Simmons hauled in a pass on a shallow drag and cut it upfield for a nine-yard gain and a first down on a third and long that got the Mountaineers into field goal range and Evan Staley squeezed it inside the right upright from 40 yards.
“Offense was a struggle, said Brown. “It’s really kind of been a struggle all year. We tried to be persistent with the run game today – had a little bit of success. I think Leddie Brown – when we get him to the line of scrimmage, he does a good job.”
The Mountaineers got the ball to start the second half and with the game tied at 10, Doege threw his second of his three interceptions on the day.
“Jarret didn’t have his ‘A’ game today,” said Brown. “He wasn’t sharp. I don’t think he saw it very well. A lot of credit to what Gary (Patterson) does defensively. I think he’s one of the top defensive minds in the country and he makes it tough… He takes away what your good at and if you have success with a play if you don’t hit it again within that drive… He and his staff because they’ve been together so long, he makes those corrections on the sideline and you don’t get that play again. I think you see that some plays we hit, and we tried to come back to them, and he had answers for him. So, that’s a credit to him.”
The West Virginia defense stepped up on all three interceptions.
“I think if you look at all the stats, the biggest stat and the reason we won the game, we got 10 points off turnovers, we threw three interceptions and they get zero points and so I think that ended up being the story of the game,” said Brown.
West Virginia gave up a punt return for a touchdown when Jalon Reagor took a Josh Growden punt 70 yards into the endzone.
The Mountaineers were down seven and near the midway point through the third quarter, West Virginia was forced to punt the ball back over to TCU.
It appeared the Horned Frogs were taking control of the game with a pair of first downs working their way across midfield. That is until Sean Mahone stepped in front of Duggan’s pass looking towards his tight end and set the offense up at midfield and just like that, the Mountaineers were back in business.
Kennedy McKoy began the drive hitting the hole up the middle before bouncing it outside for the longest run of the season of 36 yards. Nonetheless, West Virginia settled for a field goal and trailed 17-13.
The West Virginia defense didn’t allow TCU to cross their own 30 on consecutive drives, keeping the field advantage tilted towards the Mountaineers.
The Mountaineers took a chance on a fourth and one at midfield and it paid off in a form of a penalty. Ar’Darius Washington grabbed and then knocked down Sam James on the play resulting in a pass interference call and giving WVU the first down.
Then on a third and 12, defensive tackle Ross Blacklock hit Doege in the jaw with his helmet and was called for targeting leading to another first down on what would have been fourth and 12 after the incomplete pass.
Two mistakes on the same drive were too many because two plays later, Doege delivered a dime to Isaiah Isdale to the front corner of the pylon and Isdale gracefully tapped his way into the endzone for the game-winning touchdown.
The defense had to make two final stands in the final two minutes but the Mountaineers never allowed TCU to cross the 50-yard line in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.
"Proud of our guys," said Brown, "Huge win to finish the year. It’s been a long year, but I thought our guys battled. We played really three poor half’s. We’ve been in every league game the whole season, with the exception of Oklahoma, in the fourth quarter and we haven’t won enough. And so, the last three games of the season – winning two of those – two of them on the road versus really proud programs."
Beating a team that only had five wins on the season may not seem like much, but there were points throughout that game that this young Mountaineer group could have thrown in the towel and yet, they didn’t.
There are still some glaring deficiencies on offense and despite the great ending of the season the defense has work to do too, but that fight till the very end showed the guys on that field Saturday afternoon will put in the work to improve upon what they finished.
“Proud of these guys, proud of how we competed,” said Brown. “I felt like we were about the right things but until you go out and do it in a game like this, you never know. So, I think it says a lot about our ‘buy-in’ and its really positive about the future of where we’re going.”