Rally falls short as RU loses to WVU 24-21

Rutgers fell behind early but rallied, only to fall short when Mohamed Sanu couldn't catch a fourth-down pass as the Scarlet Knights lost to West Virginia for the 15th straight time. Now, the wait is on to see if Rutgers' effort was good enough to get them to the Meineke Car Care Bowl, or somewhere else.

The pain is in the closeness, of the pass bounding of Mohamed Sanu's wide open hands, and the stiff-arm sending George Johnson to the turf.

Not for bowl reasons –Rutgers may go to the Meineke Car Care Bowl to possibly face North Carolina or Miami or the Papajohns.com Bowl to play South Carolina -- but rather for respect.

With rain and wind and snow conspiring to give both offenses as much trouble as the defenses did, the Scarlet Knights saw their losing streak against West Virginia reach 15 games after a late rally failed.

But Rutgers' 24-21 loss to the Gator Bowl-bound Mountaineers on Saturday in front of 52.534, many who found the exits long before the fourth quarter began, served a painful reminder the Scarlet Knights are closing the gap against one of the Big East's elite teams, but haven't quite sealed it.

Despite getting two turnovers and Joe Lefeged returning a kickoff 91 yards for a score, and despite limiting West Virginia to 112 yards in the final three quarters, Rutgers (8-4, 3-4 Big East) remains winless against the Mountaineers (9-3, 5-2) since 1994.

"I am frustrated because we lost a football game,'' Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "And I don't want to sound disrespectful to (West Virginia), but I really felt we should have won.''

The easy sticking points are the fourth-and-6 pass Sanu tipped, which was intercepted with two minutes to play and Rutgers at midfield, and Johnson's inability to tackle Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Brown on a third-and-6 on the next possession.

However, Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage was willing to put himself at the forefront of the loss, saying he played "terrible'' while finishing 9 of 27 for 153 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown.

Savage was victimized by several dropped passes, including two by Sanu and one by Julian Hayes, but missed badly on a number of throws.

"I can't use (the conditions) as an excuse. I just played terrible,'' Savage said. "The one play I held the ball for probably eight seconds in the pocket. It was ridiculous. I overthrew a bunch of guys. You can't blame anything but myself.''

As unrelenting and impressive as Rutgers' defense played in the final 45 minutes, the offense was again stagnant too many times. Rutgers finished with 218 yards of offense while the defense held Brown to 10 of 20 for 116 yards.

As has been the case often, it took a big non-offensive play to energize the Scarlet Knights, and the crowd, not to mention a highly questionable decision by Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart.

West Virginia took a 21-3 lead early in the third quarter when Savage didn't see safety Sidney Glover near the of scrimmage and tried to throw to the left flat. The ball, instead, when directly to Glover, who has an easy catch and return of 24 yards for the score.

But rather than continue to squib kick the ball, Stewart kicked away. Joe Lefeged received it and took it 91 yards, and Savage's conversion run cut the lead to 21-11 with 9:48 left in the third quarter.

Rutgers answered West Virginia's next score, a 41-yard field goal by Tyler Bitancurt, with equal quickness. And it was one of the few big plays the Scarlet Knights offense generated.

Sanu put a quick move on the safety near the line of scrimmage and was open along the right sideline, and Savage delivered a perfect pass for a 62-yard touchdown play to pull Rutgers within 24-21 with 8:31 to play.

"I walked out across the field to Savage and I said, ‘Son, you took shots that I have never seen a kid take. You are going to be a great quarterback,' ‘' Stewart said. "I thought they had a great one here last year (Mike Teel), and I hate playing against that boy for three more years. "I told him to go out early and take Sane with you. I said, (Sanu), you go guys go together. Six and seven, get out.''

The Scarlet Knights had two more opportunities to drive for the tying or go-ahead score, but couldn't get a first down.

And the second one was markedly more painful since it came after Alex Silvestro recovered Brown's fumble on the Rutgers' 47-yard line.

On third-and-6,Savage threw short to Tim Brown on the sideline, and the fourth-down play was tipped by Sanu and intercepted.

"I got my hands on it,'' Sanu said. "I should have caught it.''

With three timeouts, Rutgers still had a chance to get the ball back, but Brown was able to stiff-arm Johnson on the pivotal third down play to finish off West Virginia's win.

"We need to get over the hump and win those games,'' Schiano said. "That's when we'll know we're grown up.''

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