The Times West Virginian

December 2, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU victory nothing but a true miracle

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — This is embarrassing really, for someone who is in the business of words, but at this moment words simply fail me.

I could try to describe what just transpired on a starlit Florida night in Tampa, Fla., but whatever I wrote would come up short.

So, considering the circumstances, we revert to the finest bit of broadcasting that anyone tuned in during this long lifetime, to the words that flowed out of Al Michaels’ mouth when the underdog American hockey team beat the Russians to set up an Olympic gold medal.

“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” said Michaels.

To be honest, I never really did believe in miracles, even though I was there when Carlton Fisk hit his midnight home run and when Kirk Gibson hit his World Series home run on one good leg. Great moments. Heroic moments.

But miracles?

I don’t think Pat Darcy or Dennis Eckersley, the men who served up those home runs, thought they were very miraculous.

But this, this Big East championship that was just wrapped up by West Virginia University with a 30-27 victory over South Florida was nothing but a miracle.

Indeed, this was a team that on the tying drive somehow managed to overcome a second-and-27 situation, a team that was on defense in the closing two minutes with South Florida in field goal range, quarterback B.J. Daniels simply trying to run the clock down to kick the winning field goal, only to have middle linebacker Najee Goode strip the football from his grasp and Doug Rigg, another linebacker, pounce upon it.

If that wasn’t enough of a miracle there was the greatest pass reception in WVU history. You may want to point to others, but the diving catch made by Steady Stedman Bailey in an impossible situation put the ball in field goal range.

It had been a horrific offensive night for Geno Smith and the Mountaineers, the worst of the season by far. They turned the ball over, they failed on third down … but no one will be talking about that by this afternoon, for Smith’s throw and Bailey’s catch set off fireworks the way your first kiss does.

Enter Tyler Bitancurt, a pressure-proof field goal kicker who already had two scalps on his belt, one of them being WVU’s revenge victory over Pitt in the 2009 Backyard Brawl.

Mountaineer hearts throughout the Mountain State skipped a beat as he stepped forward, but his blood pressure never climbed about 90/60 as he calmly kicked it through, unleashing a wild on-field celebration, one that literally spilled over into Dana Holgorsen’s ESPN interview with Jenn Brown.

Joey Madsen sneaked up from behind and poured the Gatorade over the unsuspecting coach.

“That’s always fun, my first one,” Holgorsen said to Brown.

“Mine, too,” she said, shaking the Gatorade from her neatly coiffed hair.

This was the game WVU had to have. It was, Holgorsen had said, its legacy, the game the Mountaineers would be remembered for, and what a memory it will be for it just may have earned them a BCS bowl bid to go with the share of the Big East title they clinched if Cincinnati can beat Connecticut on Saturday.

These Mountaineers have developed into one of the most fun teams ever to play at West Virginia, in part because they are so human. They don’t have the talents and skills of Major Harris or Patrick White and Steve Slaton teams.

“We’re not good enough on any side of the ball to dominate the game,” Holgorsen said. “What this team is all about is learning how to play together, cheer for each other and figure out a way to win at the end.

“This is the third week in a row it came down to the last minute. What this team has done is figured out how to find a way to win.”

Three games back in a must-win road game at Cincinnati they needed a blocked field goal by Eain Smith to protect a 24-21 victory, the victory that gave them the tie-breaker with the Bearcats that would eventually eliminate them from contention when WVU won this game.

Then there was the Backyard Brawl, this one having them overcome a 14-0 deficit and winning on Shawne Alston’s 1-yard touchdown run,

“The whole theme the last three weeks was hang in there, hang in there, hang in there and then find a way to win,” Holgorsen explained.

Both of those were breezes, though, compared to this one.

It was a bizarre game from start to finish, a game in which WVU scored one touchdown on an interception return by Pat Miller, who had lost his starting job a week earlier, and another on a 90-yard kickoff return by Tavon Austin, who shattered Slaton’s single-season record for all-purpose yardage during the game.

What West Virginia didn’t do was get a TD pass from Geno Smith, ending his streak of 14 consecutive games with a touchdown throw.

That hardly mattered, though, when the first Mountaineer offensive touchdown of the game was scored by freshman Dustin Garrison on a short run to tie the game, setting the stage for Bitancurt.

“I felt really confident,” said Bitancurt, who had to wait through a long replay and then a timeout called to ice him, neither of which bothered him. “The whole team backing me up on the sidelines. They showed they believed in me; that really helps.”

Now there’s a longer wait to see what happens with Cincinnati and Connecticut on Saturday.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.