By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
There were nearly 10,000 fans disguised as empty seats on Saturday night at Mountaineer Field. What a game they missed.
In the words of West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen, Okla-homa made “one more play” to defeat the Mountaineers 50-49 in a thrilling Big 12 football game that included a combined 1,440 yards, 99 points, 62 first downs, 47 plays of more than 10 yards, and 14 touchdowns.
“I want to congratulate Oklahoma. They came in here and overcame some adversity,” Holgorsen said. “They ended up making one more play than we did, which was the difference in the game.”
West Virginia had rallied from a 10-0 deficit to tie the score at 10-10 in the second quarter. Oklahoma answered with a pair of touchdowns to build a 31-17 halftime lead, and still led 38-36 in the fourth.
The Mountaineers finally took the lead after Tavon Austin added to his record-breaking game with a 53-yard run, followed by two penalties on the same play by the Sooners, leading to an 8-yard scoring pass from Geno Smith to Stedman Bailey for the 43-38 lead.
Austin finished with a Big 12 record 572 all-purpose yards and a school record 344 yards on the ground, breaking the mark of 337 set in 2004 by Kay-Jay Harris. Normally a standout receiver and kickoff specialist, Holgorsen inserted the talented senior at tailback and watched him put on a sensational show.
“We haven’t been able to run the ball, so we had to do something. Obviously, he goes for 344 yards,” Holgorsen said. “He is a tremendous football player and was the best player on the field.
“In hindsight, we obviously should have done it prior to this. I felt good about our running back situation earlier in the year, but Tavon gave us some matchup situations where he could get the ball more.”
That move certainly surprised Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, whose Sooners allowed 778 yards on offense, and still won the game. It was the first time in school history that West Virginia lost a game when scoring at least 40 points.
“That’s where it really hurt us,” Stoops said. “Obviously, we weren’t ready for it. It did really mess us up in what we were doing and how we needed to play.”
The lead switched sides three more times over the next seven minutes, with Oklahoma finally getting the winning score on a 5-yard pass from Landry Jones to Kenny Stills, who stepped in front of Ishmael Banks and caught the pass in the end zone with 24 seconds left in the game.
While Jones set a school record with 554 yards passing, along with six touchdowns, Stills had 10 receptions for 91 yards and four scores, including all three of the Sooners’ second half touchdowns.
“Kenny ran a great route and fought his way to get the inside position,” Stoops said. “Those are tough catches when people are hanging on you and competing like that. Kenny had a great night, a great route runner, great hands, really good.”
Smith was consistent for the Mountaineers, throwing for 320 yards and four touchdowns, which is one more than the Sooners had allowed through the air all season. Bailey had a huge game, catching 13 of his 20 completions for 205 yards and four scores, including three in the final period.
West Virginia took a 49-44 lead with 2:53 left, and having missed an extra point earlier in the game, tried for the two-point conversion, but Bailey couldn’t handle the low throw from Smith to keep the margin at five. Holgorsen didn’t second guess that move.
“By our knowledge, and by the book, it says to go for two,” Holgorsen said. “We went for two. We had a great throw. Stedman dropped the ball … . He dropped that one in the end zone. He has got to make that play.”
In a game where defense was mostly a bad word, Stoops felt the Sooners still had time to move the ball. He was right, and was helped when Brennan Clay took the ensuing kick at the corner of the goal line on the right side of the field and dashed across to the left and went 46 yards before being tackled.
“I did feel when we got it back that we had two timeouts and plenty of time and fourth downs too,” Stoops said. “So we did. Fortunately, we milked it enough that there wasn’t much time.”
Jones connected with Justin Brown on throws of 39 and 19 yards to move the ball to the 4. Oklahoma chose to ‘milk’ the clock for three plays netting negative-1 yard, leaving the Sooners one play to win the game.
Jones, who moved further up the NCAA passing charts in career offense and passing yards, then hit Stills just inside of the goal line in front of Banks for the deciding score with 24 seconds left.
“You get in those tight games and it’s who is going to make those tight plays at the end of the game to get the win,” Stoops said. “Fortunately, we were able to do it this time, and execute well when we had to, and put it in there at the end so it was pleasing to do that.”
West Virginia had Austin waiting for the kick, and the Sooners were finally able to contain the speedster. Two plays moved the ball to the Oklahoma 49, but the Smith had to make a desperation pass to the end zone in the final seconds and the ball was deflected away by Javon Harris.
Austin was asked about his record-setting day, and all he could recall was it ended in a loss, not the yards he accumulated in sometimes spectacular fashion.
“I really don’t worry about that during the game,” Austin said. “I may worry about it after the game. They told me I had like 400 or something like that, but at the end of the day we still got a loss.
“It’s a good thing for me, but I’m still worrying about the loss.”
West Virginia had 778 yards on offense, its second highest total in program history, behind only the 807 yards in the 70-63 win earlier in the season against Baylor. Oklahoma (8-2, 6-1) had 662 yards, including 108 on the ground, led by Damien Williams, who had 92 yards and a 48-yard second quarter touchdown to give the Sooners’ their 31-17 halftime lead.
Neither defense had a sack in a game that featured 86 pass attempts, while West Virginia did have nine tackles for loss to three for the Sooners. Oklahoma had two interceptions, while the Mountaineers had a pick and a fumble recovery.
“I’m very proud of the players and their efforts. I am incredibly proud of the team to hold it together the way they did, and to come back,” said Stoops, whose Sooners still have a chance at the Big 12 crown after No. 1 Kansas State was upset earlier in the day by Baylor.
“Landry Jones to lead those drives at the end of the game, such great precision, execution up there, throwing strikes, receivers making tough, competitive catches — all of it together.
“It really was pleasing to come back and win a game away from home.”
The large amount of empty seats, mostly high up on the visitor’s side, was probably an indication of the disappointment of a season that has turned from so much promise to the Mountaineers’ first five-game losing skid since 1986.
There is no time to slow down. West Virginia (5-5, 2-5) still has to win at least one game to become eligible to play in a bowl. The Mountaineers, who are tied for eighth place with Baylor in the 10-team Big 12 standings, will visit Iowa State on Saturday.
“They made one more play than we did. The kids played hard,” Holgorsen said. “How many losses like this do we have to through? We’ve got two more games left.
“Hopefully, we can get back out there and get to work and try to come up with a couple of wins. It’s a tough loss, but we have to re-group.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at