The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 3, 2013

It’s how Mountaineers won that matters

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

— Somewhere Saturday evening there was a college football fan sitting on his couch with a bag of cheese puffs in his lap, holding a remote covered with orange powder flipping past ESPNU.

When Josh Lambert’s field goal split the uprights, giving West Virginia a 30-27 overtime win over TCU — and just as Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorsen hugged offensive coordinator Joe DeForest and players jumped in the air as if they’d just been startled by a black widow spider in their living room — the fan turned to his faithful companion, his Tim Tebow bobblehead, and said, “They’re celebrating like they won the Super Bowl. It’s TCU.”

In a way, he was right, and perhaps that’s why Tebow nodded in agreement.

TCU — which has won just one Big 12 game all season and will now need a miracle just to find a spot in the coveted New Era Pinstripe Bowl against an American Athletic Conference opponent in the always desirable Dec. 28 at 11 a.m. time slot — isn’t the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The Horned Frogs aren’t even the 2013 Dolphins.

But it wasn’t that WVU found a way to pull out a win Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas, that mattered. It was the way the Mountaineers won that could be a shot in the arm moving forward.

For starters, the triumph came away from Mountaineer Field, a spot where WVU had won just once in its last eight tries heading into Saturday’s game. No, Amon G. Carter Stadium isn’t Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and Fort Worth isn’t Norman, Okla. But for a team that had enjoyed the road about as much as a squirrel chasing a loose acorn onto a busy interstate over the last 13 months, it was rewarding to find a way to win without the comforts of home.

WVU also had to overcome a season’s worth of adversity to end up with the advantage on the scoreboard.

The Mountaineers fell behind 17-3 in the second quarter, and for a team that had lost three straight, it would have been easy to play the role of Eeyore and say, “here we go again.”

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, WVU tightened up its defense, made some changes to get more pressure on TCU quarterback Casey Pachall and kept the Horned Frogs from adding to that lead. The offense, meanwhile, found the end zone before halftime and entered the locker room with a little momentum.

The Mountaineers then scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take a 27-17 lead that looked to be enough.

That’s when disaster struck again. TCU scored 10 points in 7 minutes to tie the game and force overtime. If the early deficit wasn’t enough to crush a Mountaineer team with an already fragile psyche, the late comeback should have been.

But it wasn’t. Keith Patterson’s defense stood tall again. It played with emotion in the extra period and forced TCU into a long field goal attempt.

Then, after that unlikely try missed the mark, WVU thought it had the game won when Charles Sims broke a tackle and shot to the outside untouched into the end zone for what would have been the game-winning score. A holding penalty served as an eraser and took the points off the board, sending WVU in the wrong direction in the process.

But the Mountaineers weren’t to be denied. They worked their way back into a manageable field goal and found a way to win that game.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. WVU, an 11-point underdog, overcame a second-half turnover that gave TCU the ball in the red zone with a chance to go up two scores — creating a fumble of its own to get the ball back. Quarterback Clint Trickett shook off a couple of bad interceptions to make some key throws and lead the previously futile Mountaineer offense to some production without a single morsel of self doubt.

And the WVU defense — which has been loved in the Mountain State about as much as Rich Rodriguez the last two years — stepped up time after time and made plays, forcing four turnovers and limiting the Horned Frogs to 60 yards on the ground.

It wasn’t the Super Bowl, the Orange Bowl or even the Pinstripe Bowl, but when the bigger picture is considered, the Mountaineers had cause to celebrate.

Isn’t that right Tebow bobblehead?

— E-mail: chuffman and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.