Blocked kick seals victory for West Virginia
West Virginia's Vernard Roberts, right, and Matt Moro celebrate their dramatic victory Saturday in Cincinnati. Eain Smith blocked a field-goal attempt that would have tied the score.
Share with others:
CINCINNATI -- Eain Smith's outstretched right hand blocked a tying field-goal attempt as time expired Saturday, giving West Virginia a dramatic 24-21 win against No. 23 Cincinnati.
The Bearcats, leaders of the Big East Conference, attempted to surge back in the game's final 2:01 and drove to the West Virginia 14 with their backup quarterback.
That set up Tony Milano for a 31-yard attempt with seven seconds left.
The kick was low, Smith dived for the block and the Mountaineers celebrated, rushing the field at Paul Brown Stadium.
The win means West Virginia, now 7-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big East, stayed alive in the race for a league title. And more important perhaps, the Mountaineers found a way to win a game with an incredibly thin margin of error.
"This was a classic example of just trying to find a way to win," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Offensively, we could've done it at the end, and we didn't. Field-goal team could've knocked it through and made it a six-point game, but we didn't. Defensively, we could've caved in there at the end and let them score a touchdown. But we didn't and blocked a field goal for the win. Found a way to win. ... I think we grew as a football team today."
It was West Virginia's first blocked field goal since 2004.
"I got my hands up. Blocked it. We win the game," Smith said with a wide smile. "It was a low trajectory kick. ... I'm ecstatic right now. It was my first block in a game; I'll take it."
It was a long day as West Virginia amassed 14 penalties in a game that lasted 3 hours and 45 minutes, had six plays go under review, one challenged and overturned only for the officials to forget what down came next.
Quarterback Geno Smith was sacked for a loss of 8 yards on the first play of the game, and the defense missed multiple tackles on the Bearcats' first drive of the game and trailed, 7-0, with just 1:51 elapsed.
"This is crucial for us to get this victory. It was kind of win or go home," Geno Smith said. "The things we've dealt with have molded us for this. [When] we get in tough situations, we don't put our heads down anymore. You don't see guys with those blank stares. You see guys motivating one another."
West Virginia took its final lead when Geno Smith drove his team 74 yards to start the fourth quarter.
Shawne Alston scored from the 1 with 8:52 to play in a drive that included gains of 24, 13 and 23 yards.
West Virginia built a 17-7 halftime lead as the defense came up big to close the first half.
The defense made a goal-line stand, batted down two passes on third-and-goal, and a forced fumble and recovery in the end zone for a defensive touchdown.
On the touchdown, Bruce Irvin and Najee Good tackled and stripped quarterback Zach Collaros, sending the ball tumbling through the end zone, where Julian Miller recovered for the score.
Immediately after the play, Collaros was carted off the field and never returned.
Miller said the play worked to perfection, Irvin's charge to head upfield and come underneath the tackle with Miller wrapping around him.
"Bruce gets to the quarterback, the guys get the sack. I wasn't expecting the ball to pop out until I see it fall in the end zone," he said. "I saw everyone going for it. I don't know who missed it. Thankfully they did. I just went and dove on it."
West Virginia's lead eroded to start the second half when a shanked punt by Mike Molinari set up a short field for Cincinnati.
Quarterback Munchie Legaux found Isaiah Pead on a wheel route for a 45-yard play, then scored from the 7 to make it 17-14 with 4:25 to go in the third quarter.
West Virginia's Dustin Garrison fumbled on the next series, and the Bearcats capitalized, going 52-yards to take a 21-17 lead with 13:20 to play.
Alston's score came next.
Then the field-goal unit missed a chance to go up by six on a 47-yard attempt with 3:40 to play before the blocked field goal ended the game.
NOTES -- Injured players who did not make the trip were Brad Starks, Terence Garvin (head injury), Brantwon Bowser and Josh Taylor. ... Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey hauled in 126 and 104 receiving yards, respectively. ... Travis Bell started at strong safety in place of Garvin. ... West Virginia leads its all-time series with Cincinnati, 16-3-1.
First Published November 13, 2011 12:00 am