By JOHN RABY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Given several late opportunities to close out TCU, West Virginia’s beleaguered defense did what has done all season — it gave up big plays.
The Mountaineers’ defense allowed a long touchdown pass in the final two minutes of regulation, surrendered a tying TD in double overtime and then the game-winning 2-point conversion in a 39-38 loss to the Horned Frogs on Saturday night.
It left No. 23 West Virginia (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) with a three-game losing streak, something that hasn’t happened in eight years. The Mountaineers have lost back-to-back home games for the first time since 2003.
A team that was ranked No. 5 a month ago has hit rock bottom.
The mood in the West Virginia locker room afterward was subdued — “a lot of disappointment,” said linebacker Isaiah Bruce.
But coach Dana Holgorsen declared “the season is not over. We’ll get back to work (Sunday).”
In becoming bowl eligible, TCU (6-3, 3-3) snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 3-1 on the road in the conference despite having a freshman-laden team.
“We have to just keep growing up and getting better,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “Anytime you go on the road and get a win, it’s a positive.”
TCU overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half and got the victory after West Virginia went ahead on Geno Smith’s 25-yard TD pass to Stedman Bailey in the second overtime.
On TCU’s possession in the second overtime from the 25, Trevone Boykin handed off to B.J. Catalon and he pitched to Brandon Carter, who threw to Corey Fuller in the end zone for a touchdown.
Boykin then threw low to Josh Boyce for the successful 2-point conversion, which was upheld after review, setting off a celebration on the TCU sideline.
“I knew I caught it,” Boyce said. “We kept fighting. The game is never over until the last whistle.”
TCU outgained the Mountaineers 405-338. Smith finished with three touchdown passes, including two in the second quarter. But West Virginia was limited to 126 yards after halftime.
“What we’ve done the last three games offensively is totally unacceptable,” Holgorsen said.
Smith finished 32 of 54 for 260 yards.
Tavon Austin almost saved West Virginia with a 76-yard punt return for a score with 3:19 left for a 31-24 lead. Austin also scored on a 43-yard reception in the second quarter. He caught 11 passes for 101 yards.
But West Virginia’s beleaguered defense, which had allowed an average of 53 points in its four previous games, got exposed again at the worst possible time.
TCU took over deep in its territory late in the game and Boykin was sacked on first down. After scrambling on the next play, he found Boyce, who was pushed out of bounds by a defender, returned to the field and was wide open when he caught the ball. Boyce went 96 yards untouched into the end zone with 1:28 left to force overtime.
“Their receiver was out of bounds, and he came back in and we lost track of him,” Holgorsen said. “Then their quarterback made a play. It was sad to see (TCU) get that long pass after (West Virginia’s defense) had played so well.”
West Virginia had a chance to win it in regulation, getting a first down at the TCU 38 with under a minute left. But Smith threw three straight incompletions and Tyler Bitancurt’s 55-yard field goal try was short with 13 seconds left.
Both teams missed field goals in the first overtime. Jaden Oberkrom’s 37-yard try was wide left, while Bitancurt’s 36-yard attempt was blocked. It was Bitancurt’s fourth miss of the game.
TCU went on defense first in the second overtime and gave up Bailey’s 15th touchdown grab of the season, a West Virginia record.
The Horned Frogs then made good on their only play of the second overtime.
Boyce, who had six catches for 180 yards and two scores, wasn’t surprised at the decision to go for two points, saying Patterson called the same play — although it didn’t work — in a close win last year at Boise State.
“In these environments you have to go for it,” Boyce said.
Boykin finished 12 of 29 for 254 yards and two scores.
“He was getting hit all night,” Boyce said. “But to step up like that, as a freshman quarterback, he’s going to be great. He’s going to be a great player. We just need to get a couple more things tweaked and we’re going to be good.”
Patterson also noted the beating Boykin took, joking that he’s going to let some offensive linemen play quarterback next week “and see how they like that.”
Smith wasn’t at his best but generated more points than the past two games combined, both blowout losses to No. 20 Texas Tech and No. 3 Kansas State.
TCU forced Smith out of the pocket and he took several hard hits on runs, including being shaken up in the third quarter after landing awkwardly on a third-down rush. He went to the sideline and crouched on both knees momentarily before heading to the bench. He didn’t miss a play.