MORGANTOWN — So many times over the course of his team’s 4-6 start, West Virginia football head coach Neal Brown took to the podium and lamented his team’s inability to make game-winning plays.
On Senior Day Saturday, that narrative changed. And so did the result.
The Mountaineers came up with a pair of defensive stops inside the final five minutes of play, knocked the Longhorns out of the bowl picture and kept its own postseason hopes afloat in a 31-23 win over Texas in front of a crowd of 48,755 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
WVU (5-6 overall, 3-5 Big 12) stormed out to leads of 14-0 and 21-7 and came up with answers offensively and defensively when it had to as the Longhorns could never quite draw back even. A week after playing one of their messiest games in a 34-17 loss at Kansas State, the Mountaineers played one of their cleanest, and that, to Brown, made all the difference.
“It was clean football today, and that was the thing that was really disappointing to me a week ago,” Brown said. “We just didn’t play clean football and Kansas State did. Well, today, this was a clean football game for us. Starting with offense, go 87 plays with zero turnovers, ran the ball effectively and we had some huge plays (on) third and fourth down.”
All of those things were factors in the ultimate outcome.
Twice during the second half, scores by Texas (4-7, 2-6) cut the WVU lead to under a touchdown. The first came on a 52-yard scoring strike from Hudson Card to Xavier Worthy to make the score 21-17 with 5:40 left in the third quarter. The second occurred after Longhorns running back Roschon Johnson rumbled into the end zone from 6 yards out with 12:25 to go in the fourth to cut WVU’s lead to 28-23.
But the Mountaineers answered both of those scores with points of their own, and overcame adverse circumstances to do it.
After Worthy’s touchdown, the Longhorns sacked Mountaineer quarterback Jarret Doege on back-to-back plays to set up a third-and-18, but Doege fired over the middle to Winston Wright for 19 yards and a first down. It eventually culminated in a 7-yard strike from Doege to Sean Ryan, again on third down, to make the score 28-17.
Then, after Johnson’s touchdown trot, WVU faced a third-and-15 from its own 20 before Doege fired across the middle to Reese Smith for 20 yards and a first down. That drive finished with a 45-yard field goal from Casey Legg with 7:03 left to account for the final score.
Doege completed 27 of 43 passes for 290 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while running back Leddie Brown rolled up 158 yards on 33 carries with a score.
All told, West Virginia piled up a 459-355 advantage in total yardage, a 38:36-21:24 lead in time of possession and did not turn the football over.
After Legg’s field goal, WVU’s defense, as shorthanded as it was, made its own winning plays. The Longhorns reached the WVU 28-yard line, but Johnson was snowed under for a 2-yard loss on third down, and then senior Sean Mahone intercepted a Casey Thompson pass on the next play to give the Mountaineers possession with 2:51 to go. Texas got one more chance, taking over at its own 36-yard line with 36 seconds remaining, but couldn’t muster a first down as WVU preserved the win.
“What we talked about was it’s never too late, it’s never too late to play quality football,” Neal Brown said. “I told them, ‘Now time is running thin.’ It’s running thin, but it’s not too late and I knew we had it in us. The whole goal for today was quality football, and I truly believe if you handle the processes right, the preparation right, then the results will take care of themselves.”
Over the first quarter-plus, the Mountaineers were about as dominant as they could be. Early in the second quarter, WVU was up 14-0 with possession and had held Texas without a first down, with West Virginia holding a 175-14 advantage in total yards.
But Texas suddenly found life in its slumbering offense, using a 7-yard pass and five straight runs to traverse 79 yards and pull to within a touchdown. Kelian Robinson dealt the big blow, rumbling 49 yards over the right side and over the goal line to suddenly put the Longhorns back in it.
The Mountaineers responded, putting together a 12-play, 82-yard march capped with a 2-yard plunge from Leddie Brown to make the score 21-7 with 2:34 remaining until the half.
Texas landed the final blow of the opening half as Cameron Dicker booted a 50-yard field goal with 1:13 left and WVU’s Casey Legg was wide right on a 48-yard attempt just before the horn, sending the teams into the locker room at 21-10.
Doege hit on 20 of 28 passes for 238 yards in the opening half and tossed scoring throws of 20 and 14 yards to Sam James and Winston Wright.
Card completed 10 of 16 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, while Thompson was held to 4-of-14 passing for 29 yards. Robinson rushed for 111 yards on nine carries, with Johnson adding 77 yards on 15 totes.