By Bill Nestor
There is no question that West Virginia’s football team is head and shoulders better than any other version during the Neal Brown era. However, a two game losing streak has caused the seat that Brown occupies to increase in temperature. The Mountaineers were in position to win both of those games with Houston and Oklahoma State, but they just could not seal the deal. The fourth quarter is the most relevant because most often it determines the winner. In those two setbacks, WVU allowed a combined 50 points and those late game collapses had Mountaineer Nation questioning their ability to close out contests.
This past Saturday in sunny Orlando, the Mountaineers found themselves in a similar situation. They led the University of Central Florida 24 to 21 after three periods of play and were poised to snap the longest losing streak of the 2023 campaign. The pressure was on and the Knights were looking for a homecoming win. A raucous crowd of 44,136 spectators were making their presence felt and a feeling of deja-vu filled FBC Mortgage Stadium. Brown has been waiting for his stoppers to step up in crunch time and they wouldn’t let their coach down.
They shut down the UCF offense and would not let the home team score until the 1:46 mark when the game was out of reach.
To understand just how impressive the fourth quarter effort was for the Mountaineer defense, you have to look at the flow of the game. For the first three quarters. The Knights had shown an ability to move the football via the big play and it felt as if they could only be stopped by themselves.
UCF had more yards (463 to 450) and more first downs (28 to 25) than WVU in the affair. However, the stat that they led in, that hurt them the most, was turnovers.
The Knights gave it away three times while the Mountaineers played keep away to perfection, not turning the ball over once in the match up. As a matter of fact, West Virginia did not force a punt until the fourth period of play when all of the chips were on the table.
When it mattered most, the defense rose to the occasion and willed the squad to victory. It was a sign of maturity it is another reason that this year’s edition is on its way to the second season. Brown and company will go bowling and now it’s just a matter of determining just what level of a bowl will they be going to and will it be enough to keep Brown in Morgantown? Hopefully WVU keeps winning and it won’t be a consideration. This week’s lock up with Brigham Young University will be televised in prime time on Fox Sports One, which means that there are others that are impressed with this year’s team.
The battle of the ‘Burg took place last Friday when Liberty traveled across town to battle Robert C. Byrd. This epic contest went down to the wire and the Flying Eagles earned a come-from-behind victory.
Liberty led 13 to 12 at halftime, but RCB fought back to knot the battle at 20 after three quarters. The deciding score came when Junior Smith found Cam Newsaun on a 29-yard pass play with four minutes left in the final frame.
An impressive side note from this contest was that both freshman quarterbacks Smith and Mountaineer Isaiah Heplin rushed for over 100 yards. Smith had 152 yards on 21 attempts and Heplin finished with 106 yards on 19 attempts.