The date is October 15, 2005. The location is Milan Puskar Stadium in the heart of West Virginia University’s Evansdale campus. On this day, the Mountaineers host the 19th ranked Louisville Cardinals for the first time since UL the conference earlier in the year alongside Cincinnati and South Florida. WVU enters at 5-1 but has been largely untested with the only game against a ranked team being a 34-17 loss to Virginia Tech. On the other side, the Cardinals are 4-1 with three of those wins being in non-conference play against power-conference opponents.
WVU is led on the offensive side by freshman running back Steve Slaton who only had taken eight carries before racking up over two hundred yards in the previous two games. Its been a timeshare under center with Adam Bednarik. taking the majority of the snaps but redshirt freshman Pat White has shown tantalizing dual-threat abilities in his limited appearances. For Louisville, the two-headed monster of Brian Brohm and Michael Bush are generating offensive numbers the will eventually result in the third-best offense in the nation based on points per game.
Freshman Pat McAfee sent the ball into the sky for the opening kickoff and the game was underway with UL letting the ball drop for a touchback. Brohm wasted no time getting his offense into rhythm with he and Bush keying a 16 play, 80-yard opening drive that was capped off by the running back’s five-yard plunge into the end zone to give Louisville the first lead of the game.
Despite getting the first down from a Cardinal penalty, WVU went nowhere on its opening drive as Bednarik couldn’t get moving through the air and Slaton struggled to find space. The defense held UL to just four yards after Phil Brady’s punt but only gained five after getting the ball back. Brady punted again and the Cardinals moved a bit better on this drive with Brohm going 3/3 but a tackle for loss on Bush stalled the drive. The WVU offense continued to struggle upon regaining possession and punted for the third time in the first quarter alone.
This time Brohm was able to lead yet another long drive with a 12 play trek down the field. On third and two from the Mountaineer 35 yard-line, the Louisville native completed a key pass to Joshua Tinch who broke loose for 26 yards down to the WVU 9. However, Bush went backwards again on third down and Bobby Petrino’s team was forced to settle for a 19-yard Arthur Carmody field goal. For the Mountaineer response, White replaced Bednarik but the offense stumbled once again. Another three and out was in the cards so Brady sent his fourth straight punt of the day into the air.
The Louisville offense came back out looking to step on the throat as the second quarter rolled on. Brohm’s first two completions on the drive went to Tinch for a combined 27 yards and moved all the way down to the WVU 31. A holding penalty moved the Cardinals back but they looked poised to go up by three scores before the half. The did not come to pass because Brohm’s next pass went off the hands of the receiver and into the waiting arms of WVU safety Mike Lorello for the first turnover of the game. Even though a sack on White resulted in another three and out, the rout had been avoided for the time being.
Brohm and Bush came back out onto the field with just a minute and 57 seconds left before halftime. For that offense, that was more than enough time to put points on the board. Brohm started the possession with five straight completions, including three to Tinch, and moved the ball all the way to the 19 yard-line of the Mountaineers. Following a one-yard keeper, Brohm fired a dart into the end zone and Tinch made an outstanding play in traffic and withstanding a hit from WVU’s Thandi Smith to put Louisville up 17-0 on the halftime scoreboard.
With White and Bednarik alternating snaps on the second half’s opening drive, it became the Steve Slaton show to start the third quarter. The freshman moved the offense almost single-handedly with 46 yards on four carries and 20 receiving yards on two catches with the latter being a 14-yard touchdown grab from Bednarik to get the Mountaineers on the board.
The key for WVU to stay in the game would be keeping UL from responding. This did not exactly go to plan. Brohm once again dissected the Mountaineer defense, including a big 20-yard connection to Mario Urrutia to get inside the ten yard-line. Two carries for Bush later and Carmody was on for an extra point attempt, putting the Cardinals back up by 17 points.
For the second time in the game, WVU had a negative drive, losing five yards and going three and out once again. The defense was able to make a stand this time, keeping the Cardinals to just three yards and forcing a punt. Each team then got strong drives moving into opposing territory and each coach decided to take a risk and go for two. Neither one proved to make the right choice as both teams turned the ball over on downs.
Getting the ball back, White replaced Bednarik mid-drive and helped to lead a 13 play, 66-yard scoring possession. Two big runs from the quarterback moved the Mountaineers from Louisville’s 28 all the way to the three and Slaton took it from there to cut the lead back to ten. Trusting his freshman kicker, Rich Rodriguez gambled and gave McAfee the order to attempt an onside kick. With a huge crash at the point of contact, WVU recovered the football on its own 48 with a chance to make it a one-score game.
On the very first play of the drive, Slaton ripped off a 22-yard run down to the UL 30 yard line. A pass from White to Brandon Myles set the Mountaineers up inside the 10 but a pair of short runs killed the drive. McAfee came on for his first field goal attempt of the game and the freshman drilled a 28-yarder to cut Louisville’s lead down to seven.
Needing a big stop, the WVU defense came in clutch. Bush was stuffed for a loss of two on first down and Brohm was forced to throw an incompletion on a second-down pass deflected by Kevin “Boo” McLee. On a key third down, Mike Lorello came flying off the right edge on a safety blitz and dropped Brohm to force a punt back to the Mountaineers
Following a short punt by Todd Flannery, WVU had outstanding field position at UL’s 40-yard line. On the very first play, Slaton took off on another big run for 16 yards. After a negative run and an incomplete pass, the Mountaineers were faced with a third and 11 situation with 2:30 left in the game. Then, White hit Dorrell Jalloh but was stopped just short of the sticks and a fourth and one would decide the fate of the game. White carried it himself off left tackle and slipped through the line for a first down and a good bit more, picking up 12 yards down to the three-yard line. A pair of handoffs to Slaton pushed through those final three yards and tied the game at 24 with just 54 ticks left on the clock. A pair of runs by Bush ended regulation at a tie.
Overtime began at a fast pace and did not stop as it went along. On the very first snap, Owen Schmitt burst through the Cardinal front and rumbled inside the five to the two for a 23-yard gain. The next play, Slaton took it in from two yards out to give WVU its first lead of the game.
Louisville came right back and scored almost as quickly as Bush ran for no gain on first down but back to back completions of 10 and 15 yards to Mario Urrutia saw the game tied once again.
Louisville moved very quickly once again to begin the second overtime. An eleven-yard completion to Tinch moved the ball inside the 20 and on the very next play, the 245 lbs Bush rumbled for a 14-yard touchdown to reclaim the lead for the Cardinals. For the second time since overtime began, it took the Mountaineers just two plays to get into the end zone. White ran it for two on first downs but then Slaton got loose again and ran it in from 23 yards out to force a third overtime and keep the comeback hopes alive.
In the third overtime, it was Owen Schmitt coming up big again. With WVU not moving the ball well on the first two plays, the burly fullback took the ball on third and eight from the 23 and rolled for a 20-yard pickup down to the Cardinal three yard line once again. Two plays later, Slaton punched it in from close range to score his fifth rushing touchdown of the game and sixth total. Forced to go for two in the third overtime, White’s pass found its way into Jalloh’s hands to put WVU up 46-38.
The Cardinals came out and moved it quickly once again. Back to back completions to Bush and Tinch brought the ball down to the WVU three. Bush was stopped on first and goal but was able to power it through on the left side to cut the lead to 46-44. With the two point try required in the third overtime, the continuation of the game would come down to one play. Brohm came out, alone in the shotgun with five receivers out wide. On the snap, the UL line held and the signal caller had time to read the defense. Seeing no open options, he decided to tuck and run for the goal line. At the two he was met by multiple Mountaineers, led by Eric Wicks, and stonewalled, just six feet away from keeping the game alive.
This game will go down as one of the greatest games and comebacks in WVU football history but it also served a larger purpose. This saw the first true exhibition of the White-Slaton-Schmitt three-headed monster. White relieved Adam Bednarik under center and while only throwing for 49 yards, he ran for 69 and kept more than one drive alive as the comeback was on. Slaton had a huge game in his fourth career appearance with 188 yards and five touchdowns on the ground to go with three catches for 20 yards and another TD. Schmitt finally showed up in overtime, carrying the ball twice for 43 yards and kept the chains moving in the final OT. With a dramatic win over Louisville, WVU set the tone for the next three years of Mountaineer football.