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Toss-Up Series to Continue for WVU and Texas

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Prior to WVU’s inclusion in the Big 12 Conference, the Mountaineers and Texas Longhorns played only once: 1956 at then-Memorial Stadium in Austin, Tx.

Both teams were held to three scoreless quarters, and the game ended with the series’ first WVU win, 7-6. WVU running back Larry Krutko, inducted into the 2018 WVU Sports Hall of Fame, scored the Mountaineers’ only score with a 15-yard run into the Longhorn end zone. Just like that, the Mountaineers and then-University of Texas Longhorns were off on what was bound to become a competitive rivalry 60+ years later.

It took until 2012 for the two schools to meet again, but when they did, back in Austin, the Big 12 Conference looked as though a serious back-and-forth rivalry was brewing. The then-No. 8 Mountaineers, undefeated and quarterbacked by Geno Smith, notched 48 points in the team’s first Big 12 road game. Smith had four passing touchdowns on 25 completions for 264 yards in the win over then-No. 12 Texas. Sophomore running back Andrew Buie was on track to have an 851-yard season with his 207 yards rushing and pair of touchdowns. WVU concluded the road trip with a 48-45 victory to add a second win to the series record.

2013 brought yet another one-score divide. In overtime in Morgantown, the Longhorns, coached by Mack Brown in his final season at the helm, finally found the win column. In place of an injured Clint Trickett, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen sent junior Paul Millard out to serve as QB1. Millard completed 16-of-32 passes for 259 yards and a single touchdown, but also threw out two costly interceptions. West Virginia maintained a lead for nearly the entire game, but the Mountaineers and Longhorns were tied at 40 when the musket fired. With 13 seconds remaining in regulation, Holgorsen’s team could feel a 40-37 win coming, but Longhorn kicker Anthony Fera made a 24-yard field goal to send the knock-down, drag-out game to overtime. The Longhorns mobilized in the extra period, off a two-yard touchdown pass from Texas quarterback Case McCoy to Alex De La Torre to win 47-40 and remain undefeated in-conference. This was the first nail-biter game of the series, and fans were in for a decade of similar games.

2014 brought the Mountaineers yet another loss to the Longhorns. Then-No. 24 West Virginia met a 5-5 Texas at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, and UT dominated scoring out of the gate. At halftime, the Longhorns were up 24-3; WVU, armed with a healthy Trickett, couldn’t hang. WVU kicker Josh Lambert added the aforementioned three in the first period, but Holgorsen’s team didn’t add additional points until the final quarter of play. A nine-yard run from Dreamius Smith, who ended with 100 rushing yards, and a three-yard run from tailback Wendell Smallwood (complete with a failed two-point conversion), combined for only 16 Mountaineer points to Texas’ 33 in front of nearly 96,000 fans.

2015 brought the match-up back to Austin for the second of three consecutive seasons. Fortunately for Mountaineer Nation, the pendulum swung back WVU’s direction. WVU quarterback Skyler Howard only threw the ball 12 times in the 38-20 victory, but still connected on two for a pair of scores (a 53-yard pass to Jovon Durante and an eight-yard pass to Daikiel Shorts). Howard added a rushing touchdown of his own, jogging two yards into the Texas end zone for the final score of the game. WVU rushed 257 yards on 51 attempts, primarily from Smallwood, who concluded the night with 165 yards on 24 carries. Include a fluke fumble by Texas’ D’Onta Foreman, recovered by WVU’s Jared Barber for a 42-yard run and eventual touchdown, and WVU appeared to be an imposing presence. The 38-20 final became a victory that Holgorsen could hang his hat on, and has turned into the series’ largest victory margin.

2016 was yet another one-score game between these two, now well-acquainted, conference foes. West Virginia, hoping to extend the series win streak to two, flew to Texas for the third straight season in hopes of doing just that. The 8-1 Mountaineers were No. 11 at the time, and the Longhorns were sitting right at .500. For what would turn into such a gut-wrenching footrace to the win, it started out as nondescript as possible. Texas’ kicker Trent Dominque nailed a 27-yard field goal after WVU defense coordinator Tony Gibson’s hard-nose scheme stopped them at the 10-yard line. WVU fired back quickly with a three-point increment of its own: a 44-yard season-long field goal from redshirt junior kicker Mike Molina on the opening possession of the game. The score was tied at three, and WVU would go on to score three unanswered touchdowns to lead 24-20 as the game progressed into the third quarter. West Virginia only lead by four with an entire final quarter in front of them, and that’s what things got interesting. Texas got down as far as a concerning placement at the WVU27 with 11 seconds remaining in the game, but Texas quarterback Shane Buechele had his final two passes fall incomplete and the WVU lead won out. Texas finished with 536 total yards, 167 from Foreman in his 11th-straight 100+ yard game. Conversely, Howard finished the game 21-of-35 for 269 yards and a single touchdown, but added three interceptions and two sacks. After the past year’s superb run game, the Mountaineers only put up 114 yards on 38 attempts and two touchdowns (Kennedy McKoy eight- and three-yard rushes). The senior running back had only 73 yards on 29 attempts, but finding the end zone on short-yardage plays was more than enough to help his team toward the conference win, 24-20.

2017 brought about the series’ return to Morgantown, but the 53,133 fans in attendance couldn’t have prepared for this season’s match-up. Around the stadium, the Texas Longhorns were an unworthy opponent. West Virginia was on a two-game series win streak and a two-game season win streak when it welcomed first-season head coach Tom Herman to Morgantown. On West Virginia’s second possession of the game, redshirt junior quarterback Will Grier, who up to this point in the season had netted 3,490 yards passing for 34 touchdowns, dislocated his finger. The broadcast showed a gruesome sight as his finger hung awkwardly, and his night, and subsequent season, were cut short. Holgorsen replaced Grier with redshirt sophomore Chris Chugunov, and the Mountaineer pressure devolved. This game featured two unlikely starters: Chugunov for the home team and then-freshman rusher Sam Ehlinger off the bench for the Longhorns, in place of Buechele. The latter threw 12 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, enough to ratchet the scoring chasm open to at least one touchdown the entire game. Not even a third quarter, 94-yard interception touchdown by WVU’s Kenny Robinson and a 12-yard TD connection from Chugunov to Ka’Raun White in the fourth could save the Mountaineers from the first series loss since 2014. Ehlinger and the Longhorns finished the game with a 28-14 victory and their third series win.

The win streak didn’t last long. With the series back in Texas in 2018, Grier finally concluded his touchdown run with all ten fingers properly attached. Even with a scoreless third quarter, the then-No. 12 Mountaineers were on fire. The run game was electric; junior Martell Pettaway ran nine times for 121 yards and McKoy had 94 yards on 17 attempts as the Mountaineers gained 232 yards. Texas scored in four straight possessions, but the Mountaineers countered. The Grier to David Sills V connection was powerful, resulting in two touchdown passes (60-yard and 18-yard) that boosted WVU up to a 17-14 lead in the second quarter. The lead changed six times after that, as Texas’ senior running back Tre Watson and freshman kicker Cameron Dicker both scored a pair. With only 16 seconds left on the scoreboard at DKR Texas Memorial Stadium, the Mountaineers closed when they needed it most. The Longhorns appeared to be mere seconds away from a second-straight win, 41-34. They had WVU’s Gary Jennings to blame for that not coming to fruition. In stunning fashion, the Mountaineers pulled out the win 42-41, completing the program’s first road win to best a top-15 team since they beat Texas in 2012.

The 2019 match-up filled Milan Puskar Stadium to SRO when then-No. 11 Texas came to town on Oct. 5., but new Mountaineer head coach Neal Brown wasn’t ready for the level of competition that the Longhorns brought to this rivalry game. WVU quarterback Austin Kendall’s 44-yard pass to Sam James notched the first points of the game, and even after Kendall ran a one-yard QB keep into the end zone himself to open the second quarter of play, the Longhorns answered back quickly and effectively. The combination of Ehlinger’s both run and pass prowess, combined with an offensive scheme that added 216 yards rushing, pushed the Longhorns into a dominant 21-17 lead entering the final quarter of play. If Brown thought that his team had the win within reach, he was wrong. Within 2:03 later, Texas had tacked on 13- and 12-yard rushing touchdowns from Devin Duvernay and Samuel Cosmi, respectively, to blow the lead wide open, 35-17. Even though WVU tried to salve the burn with a TJ Simmons 19-yard passing TD and a 12-yard touchdown pass directed at Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Kendall’s offense couldn’t claw out of the deficit; he finished the game with a season-high 367 passing yards, but the Mountaineers were outscored 42-31.

When the abbreviated COVID year came around, the Mountaineers and then-No. 22 Longhorns met as conference foes for the ninth time. West Virginia still lead the series 5-4, but Brown’s road loss record crept in to neutralize history. Had WVU been able to convert on red zone offensive pushes, the game would have been an easy win. WVU quarterback Jarret Doege put up 317 yards through the air on 35 completions, but it wasn’t enough to get past the stingy Texas defense when it mattered. In five trips inside the red zone, WVU only capitalized once: a 12-yard Leddie Brown rush. Drives ended at the 17-, 16-, and eight-yard lines, but the offense couldn’t push its way across the goal line. Other than Brown’s score, the other two Mountaineer scores came from Casey Legg field goals (25- and 34-yard attempts). That kind of offensive presence was no match for the Longhorns’ team, who added two passing touchdowns from Ehlinger to Brennan Eagles and Jake Smith to bookend scoring. Texas scored more points in those two plays than WVU compiled the entire game. Dicker added a 45-yard field goal between the scores to put the Brown era Mountaineers out of their misery in Austin.

Tomorrow, the teams will clash for the 11th time in program history. The two 4-6 teams are both battling for end-of-season bowl eligibility, and WVU is hoping to add a fifth win on Senior Day. In line with this rivalry’s rich history of nail-biters, WVU is favored by a single field goal. The game will kick off on ESPN2 at 12 p.m. EST.

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