By Cam Huffman
On the road in a hostile environment locked in a double-overtime thriller Saturday night, TCU head coach Gary Peterson decided to play Vegas gambler. After scoring on a double-reverse pass to pull within one point of No. 23 West Virginia, the coach called timeout and decided to send his offense onto the field.
Freshman quarterback Trevone Boykin rolled to his left and threw a low dart into the end zone, where wide receiver Josh Boyce was waiting. Boyce got his hands low, fell to the ground and cradled the pigskin. While Mountaineer Field held its breath, the officials looked at each other before raising their hands into the air and signaling for a successful conversion.
As the Horned Frogs players ran to the corner of the stadium to greet the group of purple-clad fans that had made the trip from Texas — and the Mountaineer fans sat with their heads in their hands — the officials reviewed the call, eventually upholding the ruling on the field and giving TCU a big 39-38 road victory in a battle between the Big 12’s two newest teams.
“The officials ruled it was a catch, so I guess it was a catch,” said WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “We brought pressure from the edge, and they ran right into it. We thought we had a good call, but the quarterback made a good throw and he made the catch.”
WVU (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) really should have never been in that situation.
The Mountaineers held a 31-24 lead with less than a minute-and-a-half to go in regulation — after a 76-yard Tavon Austin punt return broke a 24-all tie — and had TCU (6-2, 3-3 Big 12) backed up on its own 6-yard line.
But on a second-down play, Boykin stepped out of a possible sack, broke contain and found Boyce streaking down the field all alone. The Horned Frog receiver hauled in the pass and sprinted untouched into the end zone, racing 94 yards for the tying score.
“Obviously, their quarterback got out of the pocket and their receiver was out of bounds and came back in,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We lost track of him, and their quarterback made a great play.
“It was sad to see them give up that long pass after they had played so well. That was tough to see.”
WVU still had a chance to avoid overtime, but Tyler Bitancurt missed a 55-yard field goal — one of four missed 3-pointers on the game — with 18 seconds remaining, sending the game into an extra period.
Even in the first extra frame, the Mountaineers looked as though they had it wrapped up when TCU’s Jaden Oberkrom missed a 37-yard field goal on his team’s first possession. All WVU had to do was put points on the board to win, but Bitancurt’s 36-yard attempt was blocked by the Horned Frogs’ Jason Verrett, sending the game into a second overtime.
“He’s come close all year to blocking a field goal, and he put us in position to do that,” said Patterson.
In the second OT, Stedman Bailey looked as though he had pulled the Mountaineers out of the fire when he battled a TCU defensive back and came down with a 25-yard touchdown grab in the left corner of the end zone, but the Horned Frogs immediately answered back with the double-reverse pass that ended up thrown from the hands of Brandon Carter to a wide-open Corey Fuller. Then came the game-deciding 2-point call.
“We had the game in our hands a bunch of times,” said Austin, who ended the game with 101 receiving yards and a touchdown to go along with the long punt return. “We just gave up a couple big plays, missed some field goals and dropped some balls. We have to get better.”
For the most part, WVU’s defense, which came into the game ranked 114th in the nation in total defense, did play much better. On third down, where DeForest’s unit has been so bad for most of the season, WVU let the visitors convert just 4 of 17 attempts. The Mountaineers forced three turnovers — two fumbles and an interception — and gave up 405 yards of total offense. Backed into difficult situations by a struggling WVU offense, the Mountaineers allowed just one TCU touchdown in the second half, the other coming off of a Dominic Merka fumble recovery when Bitancurt couldn’t handle the snap on a WVU punt.
“I saw a lot of positive signs,” said DeForest. “We played much better and stepped up. We just have to play a complete game.”
But the long touchdown pass at the end of regulation basically erased all that positive progress.
“It’s just a lack of focus,” said DeForest. “We can’t let that happen.”
The loss can’t be blamed on the Mountaineer defense, however.
Once the talk of the country, WVU’s offense has now scored just 49 points in the last 12 regulation quarters. Holgorsen’s group netted only 338 total yards of offense Saturday night, managed just 21 first downs and was 6 of 22 on third-down conversions.
“(TCU) tackled better than we blocked,” said Holgorsen of the offensive performance. “They whipped us up front. The O-line played bad. The receivers didn’t make plays.”
Smith, who seemingly could do no wrong through WVU’s 5-0 start as he rose to the top of the Heisman Trophy race, completed only 32 of 54 passes for 260 yards. He tossed a crucial interception in the first half that led to a TCU score.
“It was about the worst I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here,” said Holgorsen of his senior quarterback. “He was pretty average.”
But Smith and the passing game weren’t helped any by a WVU running game that averaged just 2.2 yards per rush.
TCU deserved some credit, as well. Nothing the Horned Frogs did was necessarily ESPN Top 10 worthy — aside from the 94-yard pass — but they made enough plays to hang around. Boykin, despite constant pressure and three sacks, managed to complete 12 of 29 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns, including six to Boyce, who ended the game with 180 yards receiving.
“Both teams played well,” said Patterson. “Both teams made plays. The 2-point play was the same one as we used at the Boise game, where we isolate Josh, and we were fortunate to make a play.”
When TCU scored on its second drive of the game, marching 78 yards on 13 plays — a Matthew Tucker 2-yard rush the exclamation point — it looked like it was going to be more of the same for the WVU defense, which has drawn more criticism than the New York City Marathon in recent weeks.
But a three-and-out on the next possession, one that included a Shaq Petteway sack of Boykin, seemed to change the tone. WVU went the rest of the opening half allowing the Horned Frogs to convert just three of eight third-down attempts, and the only other touchdown the visitors scored — a 31-yard pass from Boykin to Josh Boyce — came after a Smith interception gave TCU a short field.
The once-unstoppable WVU offense, though, couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities. Including the Smith interception, WVU ended the first half with six empty drives, and it missed a 50-yard field goal just before the end of the half that could have given it a 10-point cushion.
At times the offense looked like the one that scored 70 on Baylor and 69 against Marshall earlier this season. J.D. Woods went through double coverage and wrestled a Smith pass away from a TCU defender in the end zone for WVU’s first score, and Austin took a tap pass from Smith 43 yards to the house, reversing field and juking TCU defenders on the way, to tie the game at 14-all.
The Mountaineers took their first lead since Oct. 6 at Texas when Karl Joseph forced a fumble on TCU’s return of a WVU punt and teammate Nana Kyeremeh recovered at the TCU 9-yard line.
Four plays later, on a fourth-and-goal from the 1, Shawne Alston, back from a thigh injury, ran across the goal line to give WVU the 21-14 advantage that it took to the locker room.
The Mountaineers actually scored first in the second half, when Bitancurt connected on a career-long 52-yard field goal to put WVU up 24-14, but with the ball in its hands and a chance to put the game away, the offense gained just six yards on three plays and then TCU scored on the blocked punt to change the momentum and set up the late-game fireworks.
WVU, which lost three straight for the first time since 2004, will be on the road at Oklahoma State next week trying to get back on track. TCU will host league-leader Kansas State.
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH
TCU 39, No. 23 WEST VIRGINIA 38, 2OT
TCU 7 7 7 10 0 8 — 39
WVU 0 21 3 7 0 7 — 38
TCU: Tucker 2 run (Oberkrom kick), 2:27.
WVU: Woods 22 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 13:28.
TCU: Boyce 31 pass from Boykin (Oberkrom kick), 11:54.
WVU: Austin 43 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 9:57.
WVU: Alston 1 run (Bitancurt kick), 5:00.
WVU: FG Bitancurt 52, 12:14.
TCU: Merka 15 fumble return (Oberkrom kick), 9:42.
TCU: FG Oberkrom 26, 12:01.
WVU: Austin 76 punt return (Bitancurt kick), 3:19.
TCU: Boyce 94 pass from Boykin (Oberkrom kick), 1:28.
WVU: Bailey 25 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick).
TCU: Fuller 25 pass from B.Carter (Boyce pass from Boykin).
Attendance — 52,322.
First downs 17 21
Rushes-yards 45-126 35-78
Passing 279 260
Comp-Att-Int 13-30-1 32-55-1
Return Yards 23 80
Punts-Avg. 9-41.7 8-39.5
Fumbles-Lost 4-2 3-1
Penalties-Yards 7-60 4-45
Time of Possession 33:03 26:57
RUSHING — TCU: Catalon 15-39, Dean 6-30, Boykin 15-28, Tucker 6-26, S.Dawson 2-5, Team 1-(minus 2). WVU: Buie 10-40, G.Smith 10-28, Garrison 6-16, Alston 7-16, Austin 1-(minus 1), Team 1-(minus 21).
PASSING — TCU: Boykin 12-29-1-254, B.Carter 1-1-0-25. WVU: G.Smith 32-54-1-260, Millard 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING — TCU: Boyce 6-180, C.White 2-31, B.Carter 2-25, Fuller 1-25, S.Dawson 1-14, Catalon 1-4. WVU: Austin 11-101, T.Copeland 6-40, Buie 6-24, Woods 5-56, Bailey 2-30, McCartney 1-10, Garrison 1-(minus 1).