After a rough opening two-and-a-half quarters, the West Virginia defense that entered Saturday’s contest at Texas Tech ranked No. 1 in the country in yards allowed per game showed up.
The only problem for the Mountaineers was that the defense belonging to the Red Raiders did as well and came up with one more play than WVU could make.
With West Virginia in Tech territory looking for a go-ahead score, wide receiver Sam James fumbled after catching a swing pass and it was scooped up by defensive back Zech McPhearson who sprinted 56 yards to the end zone to provide the deciding score in a 34-27 win for the Red Raiders.
It marked the first win in league play for Tech (2-3 overall, 1-3 Big 12 Conference) and handed WVU (3-2, 2-2) its second bitter loss on the road in as many tries.
“They won the fourth quarter, they won the game, we lost the fourth quarter, we lost the game — pretty much that simple,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “We were in position midway through the fourth, had the ball in great field position and felt good about it and we miss a couple of blocks, fumble the football right there, they return it and we didn’t answer. This game’s not complicated and that was the story.”
For the first half and into the third quarter, the game largely resembled a classic Big 12 shootout until both defenses bowed up. A 1-yard scoring plunge by WVU’s Leddie Brown with 6 minutes left in the third tied the game at 27 and that would be the final offensive points, save for Tech’s extra point off of McPhearson’s score, of the game.
The Mountaineers certainly had their chances with five possessions after Brown’s touchdown, his second of the game. But those final five drives ended in three punts, James’ fumble and the expiring clock on the team’s final possession that started deep in its own territory with under a minute to go.
Though there were some high notes for WVU offensively, there were also some of the same issues that have plagued the team all season, primarily drops by wide receivers. Quarterback Jarret Doege played fairly well, completing 32 of 50 passes for 347 yards and a touchdown, but had seven passes dropped along the way. Mountaineer receivers have now dropped 16 passes in five games this season.
“If I had an answer for it, it would have already been corrected,” Neal Brown said. “We’ve had an issue with it. We catch more balls here than I’ve ever caught at any point in my career, never had this issue before. We’re going to have to continue to evaluate it.”
WVU senior running back Leddie Brown, who entered averaging 128.75 yards per game, placing him fourth in the country, was limited to 77 yards on 21 carries and the Mountaineers managed just 91 yards rushing as a team. Leddie Brown added seven catches for 47 yards. Sophomore receiver Winston Wright led all receivers with nine catches and 126 yards but even he had a critical drop late in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, even with injury issues to the team’s top rushers SaRodorick Thompson and Xavier White, Tech was able to churn out 179 yards among five backs, led by Thompson’s 68 yards on just eight rushes.
“We didn’t run the ball good enough,” Neal Brown said. “Just flat not good enough. We’ve got to be able to run the ball to win games.
“They had several kids that ran the ball and we missed more tackles tonight and I think our fatigue got to us too. For whatever reason, I thought we looked like a tired football team late in the first half and at points in the second half.”
Tech drew first blood with a 1-yard run from quarterback Henry Colombi to cap the Red Raiders’ first drive with 9:29 remaining in the opening quarter. A 3-yard Leddie Brown plunge tied the game at 7 just 1:48 later and the seesaw affair began in earnest.
Thompson ripped off a 48-yard touchdown run at the 1:35 mark of the first quarter and after WVU’s Evan Staley hit a 41-yard field goal, Colombi hit Trey Cleveland on an 11-yard pass to put Tech up 20-10. The Mountaineers were able to convert twice on fourth down to position themselves for a 45-yard field goal for Staley as the first half expired to send the teams into the locker room with Tech ahead 20-13.
West Virginia tied the game just 1:19 into the second half on a two-yard toss from Doege to T.J. Banks and that score was answered just 3:36 later by a 5-yard touchdown run from Tahj Brooks to put the Red Raiders back up 27-20.
The Mountaineers held a 438-348 advantage in total yards but were just 4 of 15 on third down, were flagged seven times for 69 yards compared to three penalties for 19 yards for Tech.
Colombi, a Utah State transfer making his first start at quarterback, was an efficient 22 for 28 for 169 yards and a touchdown. Myles Price led the Red Raider receiving corps with seven catches for 79 yards.