Plenty to Play For

Whenever West Virginia has found itself in a must-win situation entering the home stretch of the season, the implications involve conference titles and BCS bowl bids. As the Mountaineers prepare for their final four games this season, the stakes are much different.

This season has slowly started to become a fight just to make it to a bowl game, and with just four games remaining on the Mountaineers' schedule, the team can feel it coming down to crunch time.

"I feel like we have a lot to play for. I think the players feel like they have a lot to play for. What we do matters and we have an obligation to put our best foot forward, get out there, practice hard and put our best foot forward on Saturday," said West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. "We haven't finished well the past two weeks, but they've been competitive. The game last week was a lot more competitive than what the final score indicated. It's not a moral victory to say we were in the game in the fourth quarter the past two weeks, that's not my point. We are battling, but it's not a winning effort."

In each of the last two week's, WVU has had leads in the second half only to let it slip away as its opponents have gone on to put the Mountaineers away in the fourth quarter.

Their game against Kansas State last week in Manhattan was another example of the Mountaineers struggling to put a team away when they have them down, and another showing of just how much this team is struggling to win on the road.

But according to the team, it's all a problem that can be solved fairly easily. And it's something West Virginia has been able to do at times so far this season, like when it was able to hold on for a 30-21 victory against then-No. 11 Oklahoma State in Morgantown.

The Mountaineers just need to bring that same spark to their sidelines when they make trips to play teams on the road.

"You've got to create your own energy on the sidelines," said senior offensive lineman Pat Eger. "You've got to have your own enthusiasm and the whole team has to feed off that. You can really see a big difference in the games we've played this year and our sideline was just nuts.

"When everyone's amped up and excited and playing hard and finishing at the end of the game, I really don't think it matters if you're at home or away."

Eger doesn't see the Mountaineers having much trouble getting motivated to bring that energy to the sidelines this weekend in Fort Worth, as they come into their showdown against the Horned Frogs with a 3-5 record and needing to win at least three of their final four games to punch their ticket to another bowl game.

Instead of dwelling on what's happened in the past, and how difficult it has been for West Virginia to move on past these last three losses, the team has to stay focused on the task at hand.

"It's tough, but you've got to do it. If you keep thinking about the losses, it's not going to work," Eger said. "If you want to go to a bowl game, you've got to win three more games. It's my senior year, and I've been to four bowl games and I couldn't imagine what it would be like to not go to one."

For the seniors on this team, like Eger, who have been around for successful teams like WVU's Orange Bowl championship team, it's about ensuring that the legacy they leave behind is one that makes people remember their triumphs, not their shortcomings.

"I'm not going to be known for the Orange Bowl win," he said. "That's Donnie Barclay, Julian Miller, Bruce Irvin, guys like that. I'll be known for what happens this year."

But even more than that, making this final run down the stretch means a lot to Eger and the seniors as a way of instilling the same types of lessons they were taught by upperclassmen when they were younger players in the WVU program. They're trying to teach what it means to be a Mountaineer, to not give up even when the odds aren't stacked in your favor, to step up and prove people wrong when they count you out.

"I'm pouring every ounce of everything I've got in my heart and my body into these last four games and to win out," Eger said. "Not only go to a bowl game but win these last four games and shoot these kids on this team (who will be back next season) into the offseason with a great mentality and having that carry over into this winter's workouts and into the summer and camp."


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