Morgantown, WV – In nearly every single football game across the country, there are certain situations or moments that completely change the game. That rang true Saturday afternoon for the West Virginia Mountaineers in their conference home opener.
West Virginia was trailing the No. 11 Texas Longhorns 21-14 late in the third quarter and the offense was struggling to move the ball, only gathering 24 yards of total offense in the first 11 minutes and 35 seconds.
Then the Mountaineer defense gave the offense a great opportunity after quarterback Heisman candidate Sam Ehlinger took a shot deep down the middle of the field and cornerback Keith Washington intercepted the pass inside WVU territory returned it 34 yards and at the end of the play, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty had the West Virginia offense set up at the Texas 14-yard line. The defense was holding their own holding Texas to just 34 yards of total offense after the pick.
The stadium was rocking, and the place was ready to explode. All the momentum was on the Mountaineer sideline. However, the offense did not capitalize.
On the first play, quarterback Austin Kendall tucked the ball on an option-read, that worked in the second quarter for a touchdown at the goal line, but the speed of the Texas defense didn’t allow him to get to the edge and went for a yard.
Then, on the second play, Sam James dropped a pass on an out pattern that would have seemingly given WVU at least a third and short. Instead, that set up a third and nine and a one-yard pass is all they could muster up between Kendall and James.
Two yards is what they got after a big play on defense put them just 14 yards away from tying the game and they settled for a field goal.
“We get a turnover in the third quarter with a chance to tie the game, and we have to kick a field goal. That’s four points – that’s a ten-point swing. That was the story of it. I thought we lost the game in the third quarter,” said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. “I thought that was huge,” he later reiterated.
After the series, leader Colton McKivits was visibly frustrated coming off the field and as he reached the sideline. The big left tackle that is arguably playing like a first-team All-Big 12 player knew his offense just missed a big opportunity.
“I was pretty avid about only scoring three points there,” stated McKivitz. You get a defensive play like that; it changes the game. We had the incompletion, Austin he kept the one and we had the short little catch before the field goal. Yeah, I let the offense know if you’re going to win big games like this that touchdowns are going to win them and not field goals. I was pretty upset about that. Hopefully, we learn from that mistake because in the Big 12 you got to score touchdowns.”
The game could have gone in several different directions if WVU ties the game, but you have to believe with a defense that had seemingly figured out a high-potent Longhorn offense that the Mountaineers may have found themselves upsetting No. 11 Texas and sitting atop the Big 12 standings.