MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University Mountaineers needed the late-game heroics of tailback Noel Devine to come away with a 17-6 victory over the Syracuse Orange on Saturday afternoon at Mountaineer Field.
Devine enjoyed a breakthrough performance, carrying the WVU offense after Pat White was ruled out prior to the game with a head injury. Devine ran for a career-high 188 yards on 18 carries, including a game-breaking 92-yard touchdown run to seal the victory for the Mountaineers.
“Everybody is giving us their best shot," said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. "Not very many people think we’re very good but we hung in there and got the win.”
The Mountaineers were outgained, 346-268, by Syracuse offensive and defensive units ranking near the bottom of the country in total offense and total defense.
“I’m very disappointed with our offensive production today,”said Stewart.
Quarterback Jarrett Brown completed 14 of 20 attempts for just 52 yards and a touchdown, and Jock Sanders led the receivers with 22 yards on four receptions, including a 12-yard touchdown reception. Sanders has scored at least one touchdown in all four games this year at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Brown learned Friday afternoon that he was going to play. Stewart apologized after the game to the media about saying earlier in the week that he thought White would be ready to go on Saturday.
“Gang, as of Thursday I thought he was going to play. I think Pat wanted to play and he was very disappointed that he didn’t play.”
Brown's longest completion of the afternoon was just 12 yards. Stewart said there were plays called to get the football down the field.
“When you run a three-level flood and you miss the second two levels … (Jarrett) just couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Stewart said. "He wasn’t on today but he came on at the end and finished the game.”
WVU’s defense once again came up big as it has the last three weeks, stifling the Orange three times on fourth down attempts. The defense allowed Syracuse to score only once in three red zone attempts. The Mountaineers have kept opponents out of the end zone in 12 of their last 14 quarters dating back to the Colorado loss.
“They quick counted us and they play-actioned us and I was really proud of the way our defense played," Stewart said.
Bandit safety Quinton Andrews led the Mountaineers with nine tackles, while linebackers Mortty Ivy and Anthony Leonard finished with eight apiece. Leonard recorded a key pass breakup in the end zone to prevent Syracuse from taking the lead in the fourth quarter.
Syracuse used a methodical 16-play, 81-yard drive on its first possession but failed to get into the end zone, instead getting a 26-yard field goal by Patrick Shadle to take a 3-0 lead. Starting on its own 10, the Orange were boosted by quarterback Cameron Dantley’s eight completions, including seven consecutive, for 83 yards on the drive to set up Shadle’s chip shot.
WVU could not get much going offensively in the first quarter, totaling just 3:55 of possession time. Aside from a 22-yard run by Devine, the Mountaineers were contained by a Syracuse defense selling out to stop the run.
The Mountaineers had a legitimate scoring opportunity in the first quarter but were stymied when Brown was sacked for a nine-yard loss on a third-and-two at the Orange 28 yard-line.
WVU eventually got on the board in the second quarter when Sanders scored on a 12-yard wide receiver screen - his fifth score of the season - to make it 7-3. Devine provided an assortment of ground-churning plays during the 63-yard scoring drive.
With 1:03 left before the half, Shadle nailed a 53-yard field goal to tighten WVU’s lead to 7-6. The Morgantown native’s 53-yard boot is the longest ever kicked by a WVU opponent at Milan Puskar Stadium.
With Syracuse plunging down the field in the third quarter, safety Nate Sowers made a critical interception on a roll-out pass by Dantley, giving WVU possession at its own 19-yard line.
The Orange had another prime opportunity to score after getting good field position on its next possession, starting at its own 48-yard line. Facing third-and-three at WVU’s 43, Dantley threw a pass that was broken up by defensive end Scooter Berry. Syracuse proceeded to go for it on fourth down and Julian Miller was able to breakup another pass to turn the ball over to the Mountaineers on down with good field position.
That led to a Pat McAfee 33-yard field goal with 11:41 left in the fourth quarter to give WVU a 10-6 lead. After Brown converted a key third down with a nine-yard quarterback keeper to the Syracuse 20-yard line, WVU could not muster another first down to keep the game within reach for the Orange.
McAfee’s field goal moved him past former Mountaineer tailback Steve Slaton for the WVU all-time scoring record with 333 points.
Syracuse marched down the field once again but came up empty after WVU held the Orange on fourth down. Facing third-and-goal on their own eight-yard line, the Mountaineers stuffed tailback Curtis Brinkley on an off-tackle run to the right side. Middle linebacker Leonard then knocked away Dantley’s pass in the end zone on the following play after the elusive quarterback faced heavy pressure from weakside linebacker J.T. Thomas. Syracuse coach Greg Robinson opted to go for the first down instead of kicking the field goal which could have pulled the Orange to within one.
West Virginia eventually broke the game open after Devine took a handoff from WVU’s eight and broke loose for a career-high 92 yard touchdown run down the left side. Devine followed the blocks of left tackle Ryan Stancheck and tight end Tyler Urban and outran the Syracuse secondary to give WVU a 17-6 lead. The run was four yards shy of a stadium record of 96 yards held by Pat Randolph in 1986.
Syracuse’s last-gasp effort fell short when Dantley threw an incompletion on fourth down at the WVU 24-yard line.
West Virginia was flagged eight times for 69 yards, several of those holding penalties that killed drives.
“The holding calls were ridiculous today. I’m tired of seeing penalties," Stewart said.
The Mountaineers return to action on Thursday, Oct. 23, with a nationally-televised game against Auburn at Mountaineer Field. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.