Because the streak is over. The Mountaineers had just enough –enough offense, enough defense, enough special teams and enough made plays to both win in overtime and keep its bowl hopes alive with a 30-27 victory. It was, as per the norm, infuriating, frustrating and exasperating. But, this time, it was also exhilarating.
"I gotta give these guys credit; that was two teams that needed a win," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen told MSN from IMG. "We talked all week about finished. We kept our composure and finished."
In the end, it was "just" a win over a now 3-6 team. But to keep the hope of postseason play alive with home games against Texas and Iowa State sandwiched around a road trip to Kansas? The latter two contests now suddenly seem not just relevant, but of the stuff that could well rejuvenate a team which few doubt would have packed it in, mentally and physically, had the game been lost. The season now takes on an entire new meaning over its final quarter, with the Mountaineers having something, anything, for which to play.
Because only blind optimists of the Iraq Minster of Information variety would believe West Virginia could have rallied from this defeat. Casey Pachall's touchdown throw to David Porter, piggybacked by Jaden Oberkrom's 45-yard field goal to force overtime, could have been the knockout punch fatally delivered to an already staggered squad. Instead, WVU countered – again – with its defense, pounding TCU, and Pachall, back 20 yards in three plays to force Oberkrom into a 62-yard field goal that had the distance but not the accuracy.
Suddenly, West Virginia was off the ropes and attacking itself, Sims gut-punching for 15 yards up the middle over three plays to set-up Lambert's 34-yard game winner.
"That's the first one," Lambert told MSN from IMG. "Hopefully, we can turn this win into a few more."
That's the idea. West Virginia had been close. It had taken leads in its last two games into the final 18 minutes. Its defense, coaches said, was seven plays from turning in an exceptional performance against Kansas State. Those seven plays, however, were the difference in a close game and what ended as a 35-12 blowout. The defense again got the team a lead, forcing four turnovers, three that setup scores to rally from 17-3 deficit to a 27-17 lead.
And then, one thought, it was going to happen again. With just three minutes left, TCU got a touchdown pass, then held WVU to a three and out. There was Oberkrom's field goal and Holgorsen not trusting Clint Trickett after the quarterback threw a pair of bad interceptions, the pick six of which was negated by a defensive penalty. The Mountaineers kneeled to end regulation and, most thought, its season. The Horned Frogs had rallied to beat West Virginia 39-38 in double overtime last season, and it appeared like a Texas-sized sequel in year two.
It wasn't to be. WVU held, Lambert split and the decision got the Mountaineers to within a game of .500 in handing TCU its third straight loss for the first time in the Gary Patterson era, and sending the Frogs to just their seventh loss in the last 38 home games. Now, the 4-5 Mountaineers have a chance, no matter what happens next week. Beat what figures to be a top 25, Big 12-leading Longhorn team at home – which suddenly isn't of the astronomical odds sort – and the whole season outlook is changed.
"Whoever wins this one is going to a bowl," Shaq Rowell said before the game.
Let's hope so. Enjoy this one, and drink it in, Mountaineer fans; the nightcap versus Texas is to come.