MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Silence. Broken by occasional screams.
That's how receiver Tavon Austin described the West Virginia locker room following the team's third consecutive loss Saturday night -- this one on a 2-point conversion in double overtime at home after twice having the game seemingly in the bag.
"It wasn't only the hardest loss of my college career," said Austin, "but my life."
Trevone Boykin found a diving Josh Boyce for the 2-point conversion to give TCU a 39-38 win in front of 52,322 at Milan Puskar Stadium, moments after tight end Corey Fuller caught a 25-yard touchdown pass on a trick play.
The loss was devastating for West Virginia's once-elaborate hopes to contend for a national title and Big 12 Conference championship in its first season in the league and also marks the program's first three-game losing skid since the close of the 2004 season.
"Well, the season is not over," coach Dana Holgorsen told his team. "We'll get back to work tomorrow."
The loss can be traced back to the end of regulation, when Austin's electrifying 76-yard punt return set up West Virginia (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) for the win with 3:19 to play.
The teams then traded punts, leaving TCU (6-3, 3-3) with the ball with 2:07 on the clock.
Boykin was sacked for a loss of 9 yards and pinned on his 6 when busted coverage led to a 94-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Boyce to force overtime.
"It was sad to see them get that long pass, 80 or 90 yards for a touchdown after [the defense] had played so well," Holgorsen said. "That was tough to see. Obviously their quarterback got out of the pocket and their receiver was out of bounds and they came back in and we lost track of him."
The 94-yard play overshadowed a fairly solid day for the defense, which forced six three-and-outs, forced two fumbles, came up with a goal-line interception and, for the most part, did not get burned nearly as badly by the pass as they had been.
Co-defensive coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson switched positions logistically, with DeForest moving to the press box and Patterson on the sideline. Holgorsen said DeForest still called the plays.
"We had the game won, all we have to do is stay in coverage," DeForest said. "Three turnovers? Six three-and-outs? That's good defense. ... The problem is you can't give up the big one."
The defense was able to get more pressure than they had all season and picked up three sacks for a loss of 26 yards. The offense continued to struggle.
Smith completed 32 of 54 passes for 260 yards with one interception, but the offense converted just 6 of 22 chances on third down and gained 78 rushing yards.
Worse, with two late fourth-quarter possessions and leading by a touchdown, the offense failed to move the chains well enough to limit the Horned Frogs' time with the ball.
Three passes fell incomplete on the Mountaineers' final possession of regulation before Tyler Bitancurt tried a 55-yard field goal that sailed wide left.
"We had two weeks of practice. It still ain't happening," Austin said. "A couple big plays here and there, but overall from how we started at the beginning of the season it looks nothing like it looks now."
Neither team converted in the first overtime period. TCU missed wide left on a 37-yard field-goal attempt and Bitancurt's 36-yard attempt was blocked.
Smith threw a touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey to start the second overtime, giving West Virginia a 38-31 lead with the extra point before TCU went for two.
"I'm one of those people who believes when you play someone on the road, you have to go take ball games," TCU coach Gary Patterson said.
Smith threw two first-half touchdowns -- 22 yards to J.D. Woods and 43 yards to Austin -- and West Virginia got a 1-yard rushing score from Shawne Alston to take a 21-14 lead into halftime.wvusports
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com or 412-263-1959.