West Virginia 20-17 win keeps TCU from getting bowl eligible

West Virginia wide receiver Isaiah Esdale (88) and wide receiver Sam James (13) celebrate a fourth quarter touchdown by Esdale against TCU in an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, in Fort Worth, Texas.

MORGANTOWN – This one was supposed to be about the seniors, which in a way, would make it about the past. But it wasn’t, not this season-ending 20-17 victory at TCU on a wet and dreary Friday afternoon.

Oh, it was nice to see Colton McKivitz win his 48th start as a Mountaineer offensive tackle and to have Reese Donahue go out with a victory. No, it doesn’t match the day Donahue got down on one knee at Mountaineer Field and asked Sarah Moore to marry him, but it’s a memory that will last as long and be almost as strong.

It wasn’t even about Kennedy McKoy, who finally got a hole to run through and turned it into the season’s longest gain on the ground of 36 yards.

But the real message that came from this game wasn’t about the contribution of those who have been at West Virginia for three or four years.

It was instead for those who just got to Morgantown, the younger players, the stars of the future.

Today was for tomorrow and for a new head coach who believed in himself and his system, who stuck with it, rode the waves on an unstable surf board but made it to shore with a strong finish on his season.

In the locker room, after the game, Brown called the seniors up.

He’d seen the affection the younger players had shown them, how they had followed their lead and he felt the same way.

But after he spoke about and to those who were leaving, he addressed the other players in the room.

“This is about now but it’s also about what’s next. This kind of football is here to stay,” he promised.

That message got across to Isaiah Esdale, the wide receiver who came in for George Campbell and made as smooth an over the shoulder catch as any receiver here before him for a 35-yard touchdown that won the game.

“It’s definitely trust the climb,” Esdale said. “This is going to be something big in the future.”

That they took the lumps that came through seven losses, some of them ugly, meant something to Brown because he believes he has the right formula to build a team and to build a person.

This year was laying the foundation. The building goes on over the off-season.

Just as he vowed his team would play its football at the end, and it did, he vows it will get better year after year.

He watched the improvement, saw Leddie Brown emerge as a potential featured running back, saw Isaiah Esdale make the big play, saw the Stills brothers dominate and Jeffery Pooler and Josh Chandler reach for the stars.

And there were other defenders like Kerry Martin and Sean Mahone and Tykee Smith and Exree Loe and Noah Guzman who are playing far better than they did earlier.

“We have first year guys who will be second year guys next year and second year guys who will be third year guys and they won’t be making the mistakes they made this year,” he said.

The mistakes now are memories and it’s so much harder to remember them on days like Friday was.

“Winning makes everything better,” Brown said. “Now we can go into the off-season with momentum. This will be huge in recruiting. We have a lot to sell.

“It may not be a winning season, but to send those guys of on a win is huge,” McKivitz said.

It wasn’t easy.

“Everybody was working, just working,” Esdale said. “That’s all we want to do is win. We had a lot of people go down, we had a lot of people who left, but came together and won our last game for the seniors.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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