The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 10, 2013

Competitive Mountaineers are having trouble finishing

If a football game were 50 minutes long, West Virginia might be rooting for Baylor to get upset somewhere down the stretch in order to give the Mountaineers a shot at a Big 12 title.

But because games last 60 minutes, the Mountaineers (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) are now in a position where they have to win their final two — at Kansas on Saturday and at home against Iowa State on Nov. 30 — just to become bowl eligible and extend their run of consecutive bowl appearances to a dozen.

In every Big 12 game this season, other than the 73-42 thrashing on the road against a Baylor team that has suddenly found itself in the national championship discussion, WVU has been within one score of its opponent at some point in the fourth quarter.

It started with the first conference game of the year on the road at Oklahoma when WVU played into the fourth quarter down just 13-7 to the Sooners, who eventually won 16-7.

The Mountaineers led the entire second half in their biggest win of the season, a 30-21 upset of No. 11 Oklahoma State in Morgantown. They held a 27-23 lead over No. 16 Texas Tech with 10 minutes left in the final quarter, before giving up a pair of late touchdowns and losing 37-27.

The 35-12 final score of WVU’s game on the road at Kansas State made the game look like a runaway, but the Mountaineers trailed only 14-12 with 12 minutes to go in the game.

WVU led by as many as 10 midway through the final quarter against TCU, before hanging on for a 30-27 overtime win, and Saturday night against Texas, head coach Dana Holgorsen’s club held a 40-37 lead with less than a minute to play, only to be forced to overtime before losing 47-40.

Competing with almost anybody has not been much of a problem.

Finishing has been a nightmare.

“It’s not a good feeling to get used to,” said senior safety Darwin Cook. “But it keeps happening.”

Both the offense and the defense can share the blame. In WVU’s five Big 12 losses, it’s scored just 21 points after the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter — 14 of those coming with the game already decided at Baylor. The defense has allowed 38 points during that same period.

“At some point in the second half, you have to make plays,” said defensive coordinator Keith Patterson Saturday as the Longhorns celebrated their sixth straight Big 12 win. “You have to get off the field.”

“We didn’t make the plays when it counted,” agreed Holgorsen, who, along with offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, is responsible for putting points on the board. “I really don’t know what else to say.”

If it hopes to avoid being home for the holidays, the problem will have to be corrected. How this team finishes could ultimately determine how fans and players alike remember the 2013 season.

“We’re going to finish strong,” said Cook. “We want to go to a bowl game, so we have to.”

“We’re going to win these last two games,” promised defensive lineman Shaq Rowell. “I guarantee you that. You can put that in the paper.”

— E-mail: chuffman@

register-herald.com and follow on Twitter

@CamHuffmanRH.

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