Blown chances haunting WVU

WEST VIRGINIA

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- "We just didn't finish."

That refrain, a well-worn cliché in sports circles, has become the West Virginia football team's unofficial tagline this season.

Coach Dana Holgorsen, offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, quarterback Paul Millard and running back Charles Sims all repeated that same explanation in the moments after the Mountaineers' 47-40 overtime loss to Texas (7-2, 6-0 Big 12) Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.

It was a game West Virginia (4-6, 2-5) never should have been in, really, if you consider that the home team lost its starting quarterback in the first quarter, put the ball on the ground six times and had five turnovers.

But the Mountaineers weren't just in the game; they were in the driver's seat until the final minute of regulation.

West Virginia allowed a second-half comeback for the fourth consecutive week and, a week after beating TCU in overtime, went to extra time again and couldn't keep the Longhorns at bay.

The Mountaineers had ample opportunities to finish on both offense and defense.

With the ball, a three-point lead and 6:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, West Virginia needed to kill the clock. So, Millard handed to Sims on four consecutive downs, and he bulled his way to a first down and then a perfectly favorable second-and-1 with 3:59 remaining.

"Make a first down there and you probably run the clock out and the defense doesn't come on the field," Dawson said. "We've got to keep their offense off the field, and we didn't."

On second down, Sims got stuffed at the line. On third down, running back Dreamius Smith lost a yard. West Virginia punted.

"Called two consecutive run plays and didn't get a yard," Holgorsen said, shaking his head. "It's tough to take. I don't know what else to call."

The defense's first chance to finish came on the ensuing drive, when Texas had a fourth-and-7, the game on the line with 59 seconds remaining.

Quarterback Case McCoy found Jaxon Shipley in loose coverage for the first down, and the Longhorns finished their march five plays later by booting the tying field goal, sending the game into overtime.

Overtime brought second chances.

West Virginia's defense forced Texas into two third downs, but McCoy converted both with passes, the second going to fullback Alex De La Torre for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Mountaineer offense opened the bottom half of overtime with a 20-yard reverse to receiver Mario Alford.

Five yards from the end zone, West Virginia would again fail to finish, closing with a 1-yard rush and two incompletions and a game-sealing interception.

"To leave everything out there on the field and still come up short," Sims said, "that hurts a lot."

The Mountaineers are all out of mulligans. They now need wins against Kansas and Iowa State in the last two weeks of the season to earn bowl eligibility; otherwise they'll miss the postseason for the first time since 2001.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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