The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

October 30, 2010

Error-prone WVU falls in OT

Mountaineers fumble seven times as UConn rallies to 16-13 victory

HARTFORD, Conn. — There was a trick but no treat for West Virginia University Friday night as the Mountaineers showed up at Rentschler Stadium looking like a football team in costume only.

They had the jerseys and the shoulder pads, the helmets and the cleats, but when they reached into their sack of Halloween goodies they found it was filled with nothing but mousetraps that snapped painfully shut on their season.

The Mountaineers committed a rather incredible seven fumbles, losing four of them, and had a pair of touchdowns wipes out by penalties as they lost, 16-13, in overtime when Dave Teggart hit a 27-yard field, his third of the game.

Suddenly, the world had turned upside down for coach Bill Stewart and his impotent offense, their Big East season now marred with two losses and just one victory. The two losses had come in the last six days, the first to a Syracuse team that had not beaten them in nine years, the second to a Connecticut team that had never beaten them.

It was such a shocking development, the Huskies having come into the game without a Big East victory, that players rushed the field, Taggert leaped into his holder’s arms with a fist raised toward the sky while bewildered and angered Mountaineer players marched dejectedly to their locker room.

“It’s a new and different territory for us; this never happened to us,” said senior nose guard Chris Neild. “You gotta expect the unexpected. We were hoping to come out with a win as we always do.”

And they seemed on the verge of making it happen.

They had dominated play through the first half, although their only touchdown of the game came on a lightning bolt of a run of 53 yards by wide receiver Bradley Starks.

Even after Connecticut fought back patiently, riding running back Jordan Todman who rushed a school record 33 times for 113 yards, to tie the game and force overtime, WVU seemed destined to win.

Getting the ball first in overtime, they overcame a sack to move the ball to UConn 1 on first down.

WVU called on 240-pound fullback Ryan Clarke, who had been punishing the Huskies on the ground on three previous plays, to finish off the drive but he mishandled the handoff, losing the ball with Connecticut’s Lawrence Wilson recovering it.

Talk about the air going out of a season on one play.

Connecticut set the ball up at the 5 on its possession and on third down called up Teggart to kick the winning field goal.

“Tough loss,” said Stewart. “I hate it dearly. The Mountaineers played hard, but it was very disappointing.”

That is an understatement, for all of a sudden the dreams of playing in a BCS bowl are gone.

“Maybe the UConn Huskies fans rushing the field all around us will linger in their mind and hopefully they do not have that feeling too many times during their career at West Virginia,” Stewart said, referring to his players.

It was more of the same of what they went through a week ago against Syracuse for West Virginia in the first half as they played once again as if stepping into the end zone would make them come down with a rare disease.

The Mountaineers moved up and down the field, gaining 231 yards in the first half but scored only one touchdown, that on a play that fooled the Huskies as Starks ran an end around for 53 yards and a score, his fifth touchdown of the season.

Not a mitt was laid on Starks, although it didn’t have much to do with the way he ran for he was given a perfect alley when left tackle Don Barclay sealed the inside, tight end Will Johnson sealed off the corner and wide receiver Jock Sanders made a perfect block on the safety.

Other than that, the Mountaineers found ways to continually take a step forward and two backward with one mistake after another.

Take the nifty 9-yard touchdown run Noel Devine seemed to make, starting to his left, getting jammed up, reversing field to his right and going from the left sideline to the right corner of the end zone.

The official raised his hand for a touchdown, but not before a different official had thrown a flag on the chop block by Eric Jobe that sprung Devine.

Just to make sure they would not score a touchdown on that trip down the field, the next play didn’t count, either, as they were hit with an illegal formation call.

There were, of course, other mistakes that didn’t come back to bite them. On two punts players apparently were not coached to get away from a punt that wasn’t going to be fielded, once almost paying for it as the ball hit off Travis Bell’s leg but was recovered by WVU.

And then there was Devine, who had the football ripped from his grasp after a 3-yard run.

It was like no matter what they tried something would go haywire. Toward the end of the first quarter, Stewart called a pair of time outs to make sure he got the wind at his back one more time. So what happened. Geno Smith had Jock Sanders open deep and, yep, the wind carried the ball beyond him and then Greg Pugnetti soared a punt 57 yards into the end zone with the wind.

Once again, despite the inability to score more than 10 points in the half and despite the numerous mistakes, the defense bailed them out time and again. UConn did not get a first down until 11:30 in the second quarter and on the one time it threatened had defensive end Bruce Irvin break through for his second sack of the game and seventh of the season to force a field goal that made it 10-3 at the half.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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