Mountaineers hold on after dominating early
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Big plays, big momentum shifts and one big interception in the waning minutes Saturday punctuated West Virginia's dramatic 37-31 victory against Maryland.
The No. 18-ranked Mountaineers (3-0) wove together a dominating first half at Byrd Stadium, then saw a 24-point lead just about evaporate as Danny O'Brien and the Terrapins (1-1) marched to within three points early in the fourth quarter.
A late field goal widened the gap to six points, and it took an interception by defensive back Eain Smith at the 13 -- with 1:13 to play -- to finally end Maryland's comeback.
West Virginia, which next stares down mighty LSU, needed this one.
"We had all the momentum in the first half; they had it in the second half," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I'm real proud of the way the guys finished. We knew this was going to be a tough game. ... When you're playing a good team, that stuff's going to happen. If we didn't have very good leadership [on the team] we could've caved."
The teams amassed 957 yards of offense, each scoring five times from inside the red zone.
Three Mountaineers had career games receiving: Tavon Austin (112 yards, 11 catches), Stedman Bailey (113 yards, 8 catches), Ivan McCartney (101 yards, 8 catches).
The Mountaineers fumbled twice and threw an interception but also picked off O'Brien three times, including the critical late one by Smith.
"We're thankful to get out of here with a win," said quarterback Geno Smith, who completed 36 of 49 passes for 388 yards. "We're all in it together. We're all in it to win it."
With the exception of a first quarter fumble by freshman running back Andrew Buie, the Mountaineers couldn't have asked for a better start.
Geno Smith engineered two scoring drives on the team's first three possessions, the running game looked better, the defense forced two turnovers, Terence Garvin ran a pick 37 yards for a score and West Virginia led, 17-3, with just 1:27 elapsed in the second quarter.
"The biggest single thing we tried to accomplish this week was hit the field with excitement and start the game fast," Holgorsen said.
After exchanging turnovers -- one Darwin Cook interception of O'Brien and one Geno Smith fumble -- and quick series Buie two-armed the ball into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run to cap a five-play, 67-yard drive in 1:09 to put West Virginia further on top, 24-3.
Maryland scored with 2:32 to go before Tyler Bitancurt kicked a 34-yard field goal for the Mountaineers to end the half, 27-10.
Geno Smith opened the second half with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Stedman Bailey. But Maryland started to gain momentum on the back of Davin Meggett, who busted out a 20-yard touchdown run with 4:44 to play in the third quarter.
On the ensuing series Geno Smith threw his first interception of the season and Maryland turned around to run in a 6-yard score and make it a two-possession game.
O'Brien and his offense marched 66 yards, scored from the 2 and, suddenly, it was 34-31 with 10:29 to go in the game.
Geno Smith and his offense ate up 5:41 off the clock but settled for a 21-yard field goal when he missed Bailey on a fade route on 3rd-and-goal from the 4.
"I know I made it look hard," the quarterback said. "That's my mistake there."
Then O'Brien drove his team to the West Virginia 35 and was trying to convert on 3rd-and-8 when he was picked off by Eain Smith.
"We had a chance to win the ballgame at the end but we didn't get it done," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "Danny played hard. ... Danny played his heart out but he made a few mistakes."
NOTE -- Junior running back Shawne Alston, in his return to the lineup for the first time this season, netted 20 yards on six carries and was effective giving the team another option on short-yardage situations.
First Published September 18, 2011 12:00 am