Mountaineers Hang On
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 5, 2009
West Virginia got a little defense, a little kicking, some poor weather, and just enough offense to hold off Rutgers, 24-21, Saturday afternoon at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
It looked for a while like West Virginia (9-3, 5-2) was going to run away and hide from the Scarlet Knights (8-4, 4-3). The Mountaineers jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead on short touchdown runs by Noel Devine and Ryan Clarke.
Then safety Sidney Glover gave West Virginia an 18-point lead early in the third quarter when he stepped in front of a Tom Savage pass at the Rutgers 24 and walked into the end zone.
“Big play by Sidney Glover and the way our guys hung in there,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart.
It was West Virginia’s first defensive score of the season and the first since Mortty Ivy took an interception 29 yards for a touchdown in the 2008 season opener against Villanova.
Then West Virginia had to kick off.
Rutgers’ Joe Lefeged took West Virginia’s kick at the nine and got past everyone for a 91-yard touchdown return against a West Virginia kickoff coverage unit that has struggled all season.
“I liked the squib and what happens? We kick it off and the guy takes it to the house,” said Stewart.
The return pumped life into the Rutgers sideline. Following the score, Savage ran in the conversion to make it a 10-point game, 21-11.
After an exchange of possessions, things got even more interesting when West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown dropped the football trying to elude the Rutgers pass rush. The ball was recovered by Damaso Munoz at the Scarlet Knights 34.
Following a personal foul penalty on the Mountaineers that moved the ball to the 49, Savage went to work, hitting Mohamed Sanu for 17 yards to the WVU 34. Two Joe Martinek runs moved the ball to the Mountaineer 12 where the West Virginia defense stiffened.
After Sanu ran for five to the WVU 5, Martinek was thrown for a five-yard loss back to the 10. On third and goal, Savage tried to get the ball to Sanu in the end zone but the pass was broken up by Brandon Hogan.
San San kicked a 27-yard field goal to pull the Scarlet Knights to within a touchdown, 21-14.
West Virginia’s first opportunity to make it a two-score game ended at the Rutgers 34. Noel Devine broke free for 32 yards to the Rutgers 42, and Brown added 11 more to the 31. But Devine was thrown for a two-yard loss on first down, Brown was sacked by David Rowe on second down, and Brown’s pass try out in the flat on third and 13 was dropped by Devine.
Stewart went to his punter Scott Kozlowski, who managed to pin Rutgers in deep at the 10. As it turned out, West Virginia was able to keep the field position in its favor by forcing Rutgers to punt at its own 14.
“He changed the total field position all day,” said Stewart. “Those last two punts he hit were awesome. Not good, not impressive – awesome.”
WVU took over at the 39 and Ryan Clarke runs of eight and 24 yards set up WVU at the Rutgers 29. Two more Clarke runs netted four yards, setting up a Tyler Bitancurt 41-yard field goal with 8:44 remaining.
“What about that young redshirt freshman Tyler Bitancurt?” Stewart said. “I said, ‘Oh my God the ball is on the 25.’ And when they spotted it on the 23 ½ I felt better, but not that much better. But he drove it through there and that was good.”
It was Bitancurt’s 13th field goal of the season. It also gave West Virginia just enough room to hang on because seven seconds later, Savage hit Sanu on a streak pattern down the near sideline for a 62 yard touchdown. And just like that, a two-possession game for West Virginia had turned into a nail biter.
The Mountaineers were unable to move the sticks on their ensuing possession and punted the ball back to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights got five yards on the ground before a third-down pass by Savage fell incomplete.
Kent Richardson was able to get a piece of Teddy Dellaganna’s punt and the ball traveled six yards to the Rutgers 40.
Once again West Virginia was unable to seal the coffin.
Devine went backwards four yards to the 44. Brown got eight of them back on a run to the 36. Then a procedure penalty moved the ball back to the 41. On third and 11, Brown was dropped for a five-yard loss where he fumbled at the Rutgers 47.
The Scarlet Knights took over with 2:57 left on the clock and needing about 25 yards to get them into reasonable field goal range.
A Savage pass try to Sanu fell incomplete. Sanu then got four yards to the WVU 49. On third and six, Savage couldn’t hook up with Tim Brown. Savage’s fourth-down pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by West Virginia’s J.T. Thomas, who ran 19 yards to the RU 46.
That set up the key play of the game with 1:51 remaining and West Virginia staring at a third and six at the Rutgers 42. With runs up the middle virtually impossible, offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen decided to keep the football in his quarterback’s hands.
He called a naked bootleg for Brown, who used a pretty stiff arm to get 12 yards to the Rutgers 30.
“That was the play of the game when he bootlegged, stiff-armed and got that first down,” said Stewart
Out of timeouts, all Rutgers could do was try to force a bad center-quarterback exchange which resulted in a pair of offside penalties. From there, the Mountaineers were able to run out the clock.
“Rutgers played hard, Rutgers played fair and Rutgers played tough,” said Stewart.
“I am frustrated because we lost a football game today, and I don’t want to sound disrespectful to them, but I really felt we should have won," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, now 0-9 against West Virginia. "We opened the game with some defensive mistakes that I can’t explain. I can’t explain why we did it.
"Once we started doing it right, we shut them down to three points but you can’t say that," said Schiano. "That is the game of football. It is sixty minutes for a reason. We made some mistakes coming out of the gates. I don’t know if it was the emotion but it cost us.”
Poor conditions certainly played a role in today’s game. Brown was 10 of 20 passing for 116 yards for the Mountaineers. Devine ran 16 times for 65 yards and Clarke added 14 carries for 58 yards. West Virginia was able to rush for 162 yards, which was a deciding factor in the game.
“These stats are very telling,” said Stewart. “There was some sloppy play and some hard play.”
Jock Sanders caught five passes for 62 yards, giving the junior 70 catches for the year. He is just the fourth player in school history to have 70 catches in a single season.
For Rutgers, Savage had a tough time with the wet conditions and West Virginia’s pass rush, completing only 9 of 27 passes for 153 yards and a pair of interceptions. Rutgers finished with 65 yards rushing on 35 carries.
Sanu led all receivers with 105 yards on six catches.
West Virginia finished 2 of 14 on third down and Rutgers was 1 of 15.
“I can only imagine what the fans were going through,” said Stewart. “I know what I was going through.”
It was West Virginia’s 15th straight victory against Rutgers.
After the game, West Virginia was officially invited to the Gator Bowl where the Mountaineers are likely to face either Virginia Tech or Florida State. The Gator Bowl has made it known that it would like to pit retiring Seminole coach Bobby Bowden against his former team.
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