Fifteen seconds into its matchup with TCU on Saturday, the West Virginia football team was already grasping for straws.
TCU’s senior wide receiver Derius Davis took Evan Staley kickoff 100 yards back for the first points of the game. It didn’t exactly spark hope in this West Virginia fan base to already be losing 7-0 after barely enough time to blink, but the speculation was put to rest quickly as WVU came back for a 29-17 victory in Fort Worth.
When WVU redshirt senior quarterback Jarret Doege first took the field, he lead the offense all the way down to the TCU 11-yard line over the course of only nine plays. Redshirt junior kicker Casey Legg was called to boot a 27-yard field goal, and his 11th make of the season cut the Mountaineers’ deficit to 7-3 with 10:57 remaining in the first quarter. Out of the gate, it was on pace to become a high-scoring game.
After the initial scores, though, each team slowed down, connecting meaningful yardage. For TCU’s junior quarterback Max Duggan, that meant converting two consecutive first down attempts. The rush was stopped in its tracks when senior defensive end Dante Stills sacked Duggan, driving him back seven yards and forcing the Horned Frogs’ punter, junior Jorday Sandy to send the ball 40 yards and give Doege’s offense the ball back.
Doege came out firing on all cylinders, connecting immediately with junior wide receiver Winston Wright Jr. for a 10-yard gain. Senior running back Leddie Brown rushed his first attempt of the night for 14 yards to then place the Mountaineers at the their own 30. In a series nearly dominated by running back activity, Brown added five more yards before subbing out in favor of redshirt sophomore Tony Mathis Jr., who added 22 yards on three consecutive rushing attempts. When Brown returned on the next play, he added 12 additional rushing yards, and capped the series off with a five-yard touchdown rush into the TCU end zone. With seven seconds left in the quarter, the lead flipped. The second quarter began with WVU up 10-7.
When TCU regained possession, a string of short-yardage passes from Duggan to sophomore running back Zach Evans fell short of the first down, forcing TCU to punt from the WVU 43. A 35-yard punt put the beginning of WVU’s drive at its own eight-yard line, with redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Greene at the helm. Mathis Jr. kicked the series off with a three-yard rush to bring up second down at the WVU six-yard line. When Greene got the ball on second down, it was like the world opened up for him. A quick QB keep found him sprinting down an open TCU backfield, good for 67 yards and a total flip in field position. At the TCU 21-yard line, Legg was called out to kick once more. With his 12th field goal attempt of the season, a 38-yard kick, he continues to stay at 1.000, while boosting the Mountaineers into the lead 13-7 with 9:07 left in the half.
TCU answered back though, nine plays later. Duggan’s chip-away offense was back at it, working all the way back down the field from its own 24 into the WVU end zone. Duggan’s 5-yard finisher sailed right into senior wide receiver Taye Barber’s waiting hands, kicking TCU back into the lead by one, 14-13. Luckily, it didn’t take long for this antsy WVU offense to retaliate.
Only five plays, in fact. Accentuated by a 40-yard Doege to Wright Jr. completion, the Mountaineers found themselves at the TCU one-yard line, armed with Leddie Brown. A quick one-yard rush from Brown was all it took for this WVU team to bulk up the score again, in the lead again 20-14 with 2:51 left in the half.
Despite a false start and a holding penalty, the Horned Frogs continued to press down the field. Duggan, seeing his short game disintegrating, took matters into his own hands, showcasing his rushing prowess with a 17-yard run. Even with a series of downs that put the Horned Frogs at the WVU two-yard line, TCU head coach Gary Patterson elected to send kicker Griffin Kell on to attempt a 24-yard field goal. Kell’s kick fell between the uprights, boosting the TCU score to 20-17 as the seconds draining into halftime.
When West Virginia emerged from the locker room, Doege looked like he was completely focused. He hit three quick, short-yardage passes to redshirt junior tight end Mike O’Laughlin and junior wide receiver Sean Ryan, but couldn’t close. Brown sent redshirt senior punter Tyler Sumpter out on fourth down from the TCU 49, and the ball sailed into the end zone for a touchback. When Duggan’s offense regained possession, they chipped their way down inside the WVU 23-yard line, but in one fell swoop, Duggan’s third down pass landed in the hands of WVU redshirt freshman cornerback Daryl Porter Jr., who returned the ball 43 yards to allow WVU field position to begin at the TCU 42. The offensive push earned 10 yards, but had to settle for yet another Legg field goal, his 13th of the season. The 49-yard boot found the uprights, earning WVU a larger lead: 23-17, the only points of the third quarter.
For as well as the third quarter started for the Mountaineers, the fourth quarter started equally as badly. The first play, TCU’s senior defensive tackle Corey Bethley found Doege and sent him into the turf for the second sack of the game, good for a loss of seven yards. Shaken up from the hit, Doege’s next two passes, to Ryan and Brown, fell incomplete. Sumpter entered the game once more, sending a punt soaring 52 yards for a touchback.
There was hope for Mountaineer fans, though. When Duggan got the ball back in his hands, he threw the ball just barely over the head of his intended receiver, and right into the hands of WVU redshirt junior cornerback Charles Woods for TCU’s second interception of the night. Woods, in his first career interception, returned the ball 32 yards to put the West Virginia offense in terrific field position, inside the Horned Frogs’ 15-yard line. With the help of three Brown rushes (one-, 11-, and three-yards), he found his way into the TCU end zone to ratchet the WVU lead up to 29-17 with 12:26 to play in the game.
All good things must come to an end, and when the WVU offense used its next drive to drill down the field to the Horned Frogs’ 21-yard line, Legg’s 14th field goal of the season didn’t make it to the goalpost. It was blocked at the line of scrimmage by TCU’s junior defensive end Ochaun Mathis, and the Horned Frogs regained possession at their own 14-yard line. The game got chaotic quickly after this. Two plays later, Duggan’s pass to sophomore wide receiver Quintin Johnston was fumbled. Woods watched the play fail and nabbed the ball when it hit the turf, earning TCU its third turnover of the game.
To drill one final nail in the TCU coffin, the second-to-last play of the game featured Duggan getting sacked by WVU sophomore nose tackle Akheem Mesidor. When the play clock hit zero, the Mountaineers emerged victorious from a battle with the Horned Frogs for the fourth straight time, 29-17; this is the first time in WVU football history that a game has ended 29-17.
Brown notched his second 100+ yard rushing game of the season, the ninth of his career, good for three rushing touchdowns, and Doege finished 21-28 for 257 yards. The Mountaineers advance to 3-4 and break Neal Brown’s 0-7 road streak with a confident win in Fort Worth.