The Mountaineers, down 17-0 at halftime, scored 17 fourth-quarter points to tie the game at 24-24 after regulation, then rode Slaton to touchdowns on each of its overtime drives.
The frosh showcased his power on the first overtime score, punching in from two yards out for a score. He then took his next carry, two plays later, off an option pitch from reserve quarterback Pat White. White replaced injured starter Adam Bednarik with 10 minutes left in the game. He finished five of 11 for 49 yards.
Slaton caught White's pitch and beat the O of L defensive ends to the outside before his speed propelled him past the rest of the defense and into the end zone to tie the score at 38-38.
NCAA rules state teams must go for a two-point conversion following touchdowns after the second overtime. After fullback Owen Schmitt set-up Slaton at the one-yard-line, the newcomer plowed in. The resulting two-point conversion, a Dorrell Jollah three-yard reception from White, gave WVU a 46-38 lead.
The Cardinals scored on their next possession, but quarterback Brian Brohm was stuffed at the three-yard line on the two-point try to end the game. His first option was to pass, but the Mountaineers covered all five Louisville wideouts and forced Brohm inside to end the game and set off a raucous celebration at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The win leaves West Virginia (6-1, 3-0 Big East) as the lone unbeaten in league play. Louisville, the preseason favorite and a Top 10 team, is now 0-2 in the Big East and 4-2 overall.
"What a game;I am very proud of our guys," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I told our guys to keep climbing out of that well, and they kept climbing. When we were down seven or 10, I looked up and saw the full moon and thought ‘Stranger things have happened.'"
Until the late rally, neither WVU's offense or defense looked capable of playing with Louisville. The Cardinals, seven-point favorites, controlled the ball for 10 more minutes in the first half and had ran 53 plays to WVU's 22 in amassing a 17-0 lead.
"Not only were we down, it wasn't even a ball game," Rodriguez said. "They were in control. I told our guys all we need is a spark or two."
It came from Spitfire-stylist Steve Slaton, who continually made solid reads and put WVU in makeable second and third downs. That was a far cry from the first half, when the Mountaineers made just one of six third downs and had zero red zone chances.
The spark that lit the comeback fire was WVU's onside kick effort. The Mountaineers, caught by a Louisville fake punt early in the game, returned the favor late in the fourth quarter.
West Virginia had pulled within 24-14 on a 13-play, 66-yard drive that culminated in Steve Slaton's four-yard run with 8:18 left.
Rodriguez called for kicker Pat McAfee to spike the ball downward on the kickoff, causing a huge bounce. The true freshman, who nailed five PATs in addition to the ensuing 28-yard field goal, hit the ball perfectly.
The bounce allowed WVU blockers to rip into a Louisville up-man, clearing him out of contention for the ball. Enter Thadi Smith the reserve defensive back who blocked a punt against Rutgers and recovered the ball for a touchdown, to spark WVU's win there.
The senior jumped on the ball, giving West Virginia's formerly anemic offense life. It took Smith's jumpstart and scored on its final six possessions.
The first score was McAfee's field goal that brought the Mountaineers to within 24-17 and setup a final defensive stand and offensive drive to tie the game and force a triple-overtime classic when WVU stopped the Cardinals on a key three-and-out and again scored when Slaton carried four times in the final drive.
His last touch, a one-yard run inside, tied the game and sent the remainder of the 59,797 crowd (mostly students had left) into a frenzy.
Both teams then traded offensive blows in three overtimes before WVU finally stopped Brohm and the Cards on their two-point try.
"All we needed to do was make one play at the end for the win," Rodriguez said. "When we got the onside kick I was thinking ‘Here we go. We're on our way.' In overtime, I was not hoping we would keep going, but I felt our guys were fresh."
Indeed, Louisville stared to miss tackles as a result of wearing down late.
"I know we did not go out with the same energy as we had in the first half," Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumerville said. "They made big plays on us and it backfired. We did not do the necessary things to make the stops. Our locker room is very quiet now."
Michael Bush and Brohm had staked Louisville to a 24-7 third-quarter lead, and it seemed the Cardinals finally got the solid effort they had shown in three blowout wins at home but lacked on the road.
But Louisville's defense fell apart as Slaton and WVU ripped it for six straight scores. "I never thought that could happen," said Dumervil, the nation's sack leader who was limited to five tackles and a half-sack against the Mountaineers.
West Virginia put together three scoring drives in a seven-minute span, including Slaton's one-yard TD run with a minute left in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 24.
Slaton, who ran for five TDs and caught a scoring pass, broke the school record of five touchdowns set by Ira Errett Rodgers in 1919 and later matched by two others.
Slaton's six touchdowns tie a Big East record set by Willis McGahee against Virginia Tech in 2002.
"The second half he came out and the crowd got into it and he got a lot of energy," Dumervile said. "Momentum swung their way because that guy was making big plays."
It was the largest comeback win for West Virginia since it overcame a 19-point deficit to beat Maryland in 1992. The game also harkened memories to WVU's 1984 upset of No. 4 Boston College, when the Mountaineers rallied from a 20-3 halftime deficit to beat Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie and the Eagles.
The 90 points scored were a stadium record, topping the 87 points scored in 2001 in a game with Rutgers (80-7, WVU).
"All we can do now is play for pride," said Louisville wide receiver Joshua Tinch, who had a career-high 13 catches for 130 yards.
Said Louisville head coach Bob Petrino: "Now we just half to play for the opportunity to get into a bowl game. I don't know what happened."
"Nobody said the Big East would be easy," Brohm said.
Bush became the first running back to surpass 100 yards against the Mountaineers this season, finishing with 37 carries for 159 yards. His 24 points tied an opponent record.
Louisville is now 3-3 all-time in overtimes. It lost, in double overtime, against South Florida in 2003.
The Cardinals are now 1-6 against WVU all-time.
Slaton's 36 points are the second-most behind Rodgers (37 against Marietta and Ohio Wesleyan).