MORGANTOWN – Both teams – West Virginia and TCU – needed a miracle throw from its quarterback Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Mountaineers’ Jarret Doege had one up his sleeve and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown heave to Isaiah Esdale while all the Horned Frogs’ Max Duggan had was WVU junior nose guard Darius Stills of Fairmont all over him as he threw one final incompletion as the clock ticked off its final seconds.
The result was a 20-17 victory for the Mountaineers – their second on the road in the Big 12 in the season’s final three weeks – to allow them to finish Coach Neal Brown’s first season as coach with a 5-7 record.
That isn’t enough to qualify for a bowl game but is enough to qualify for having hope for the future, and that really is all you could ask.
“I’m just proud of how our kids finished,” Brown said after the game. “We talked a lot about how you play football is a great representation of who you are. I don’t know if we played great in any phase of the game but we found a way to win.”
That’s just another way of saying the only statistic that matters is the final score.
When you look at the numbers you wonder who WVU could come out on top of this one. Doege, hardly the man with the golden arm in this one, threw three interceptions and passed for just 158 yards but it was only the last 35 yards that mattered.
On that play, he was the man with the Midas touch. Trailing 17-13 with 2:10 left to play, facing a second and 10 from the TCU 35, he sent Esdale flying down the right sideline and dropped in a perfect pass over his left shoulder into his hands on the 1-yard line, his next step knocking down the pylon as he went into the end zone for the winning points.
“I didn’t really see it,” said Doege. “It felt good coming out of my hand but I got hit. When I got up I saw the referee’s hands going up. I didn’t have a clue.”
Esdale had come into the game with just 13 catches, none for touchdowns.
But on this day, he was in the game for George Campbell, the Touchdown Man, who had received a concussion.
“He’s quite a story,” said Neal Brown of Esdale, who at a year after high school, went to a junior college in Arizona where he played receiver cornerback, redshirted and winds up catching a memorable touchdown pass.
And Doege’s story is a good one, too, being the younger brother of a star quarterback at Texas Tech, winding up going to Bowling Green when no Power 5 team came calling and transferring to WVU.
“Jarret didn’t have his ‘A’ game today,” Neal Brown said. “But he’s a football guy. He’s got courage. He got hit a lot but he stood in there.”
He simply wouldn’t give in to what looked like a bad day.
“It’s the quarterback mentality,” Doege said. “If you throw picks, you got to erase it. You have to erase it.”
But TCU wasn’t through. Even after they turned the ball over to WVU, they found a way to get the ball back and, possessing the most accurate field goal kicker in the game, were driving toward field goal range.
WVU was at a disadvantage, with cornerback Keith Washington out of the game, which left them with just two cornerbacks who had played this year and took away some of the packages they would have used in such a situation.
But Tykee Smith and Sean Mahone and Noah Guzman were all over the place from their spots and the men up front were applying pressure to the point it got to a fourth down and 15 situation.
Duggan went back to pass but, as he had been all day, found Darius Stills all over him as he threw in desperation, the pass low and outside and it was over. Once again, defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s group had done it’s thing. Over the season’s final three games they had held Kansas State and Oklahoma State to 20 points each and now TCU to 17.
“The guys couldn’t have played harder,” Koenning said. “I asked them to do what they’d been doing since the Baylor game and they did. It’s fun to see guys grow and develop. They’ve worked awfully hard and they deserve to celebrate like they’re celebrating and have some fun in their lives.”
They earned it, indeed, giving up only one offensive touchdown to TCU and rising up to keep them from scoring on any of Doege’s three interceptions.
“Story of the game,” said Brown. “They got no points off three turnovers and we got 10 points off their two.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel