By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of West Virginia University’s stirring come-from-behind overtime victory on the road at TCU on Saturday afternoon.
The Mountaineers’ season, as well as perhaps the shape of the future, was at stake as they fell behind, 17-3, staring a fourth consecutive loss in the eyes to take into this Saturday night’s home game against a surging Texas team that is carrying a winning streak forward and dreaming of finding a conference championship.
To rally, grabbing the lead only to spit it up and force overtime truly tested not only the heart but the soul of this Mountaineer team, a squad that had a troubled head coach in Dana Holgorsen, whose main support was found in athletic director Oliver Luck, who some say may be named the new athletic director at Texas before the day is up — or at least before the month is up.
Three things came to WVU’s rescue in this game, not the least of which was luck — not the athletic director Luck, but the lower case kind that allowed a number of interceptions thrown by quarterback Clint Trickett to be either erased by penalty or plays that got them back into the game.
Had matters gone TCU’s way, this might have been a rout, but one of Trickett’s interceptions that had been run back for a touchdown was called back due to a penalty by star defensive back Jason Verrett, another was openly dropped and a third play that gave TCU the football on the WVU 2 was fumbled away on the first play by sometimes QB, sometimes WR Trevone Boykin.
All of that allowed the Mountaineers’ efforts to simply give away the game and the season to turn into a thrilling overtime victory, much of it set up by the play of running back Charles Sims, who had his finest game of the season with 154 rushing yards and a touchdown dash of 31 yards and a TD reception of 13 yards.
But, in truth, it came down to the Mountaineer defense, which had been knocked around in the early going as TCU took a 17-3 lead, to take charge of the game and save the season.
“We didn’t give up,” is the way senior nose guard Shaq Rowell put it. “We talked about it all week. No disrespect to the offense, but we knew TCU had one of the best, if not the best, defenses in the Big 12.”
It was up to them to match that TCU defense, to figure out a way to change the tone of the game, to get the ball back as often as it was given away.
“The defense took upon ourselves to get four turnovers this week. We got four,” said Rowell. “As a team, we did what we had to do today, and that was the bottom line. It is what it is. We needed 30; we scored 30.”
The WVU defense had much going for it. The safeties, Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph, kept pushing matters.
Cook, who has come all year and is becoming a tackling power, finished the game with 14 tackles, a recovered fumble and very nearly an intercepted pass that he juggled before dropping.
Joseph was right behind him with nine tackles and broke up a pass, but the defense was everywhere, slipping only when TCU quarterback Casey Pachall shook off a tremendous beating he was taking to bring the Horned Frogs from behind to force overtime.
He finished with 394 passing yards and three touchdowns but there was also a pair of interceptions, two sacks and about a dozen nearly sacks that sent him bouncing off the ground.
But, in the end, when TCU got the ball to open overtime, it was the defensive line that overpowered the TCU offense.
“Like Coach (Erik) Slaughter says, no one plays harder than the D-line,” Rowell said. “We believe in it. We have believed in it the whole year, but today we took it personal. Nobody plays harder than us. We played harder than TCU from the first half to the last half, and that’s what it takes for us to win.”
Indeed, the D-line overwhelmed TCU in overtime, beginning with Kyle Rose breaking through to throw Waymon James for a 6-yard loss on the first play, and a dead ball foul following a 1-yard gain on the second play sent the ball back to the 45.
Right then the game was over ... although it took an incomplete pass and a missed 62-yard field goal attempt to put WVU in position to win on Josh Lambert’s 35-yard field goal.
“I went out there, picked my target as high up as I could get. I focused on making the kick. I kept my eyes down and finished my leg swing,” Lambert explained. “We needed the victory. Hopefully we can turn this win into a few more.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.