The Pirates (1-3), tackling well and using the pass to gash West Virginia (4-0) like no team this year, couldn't cover the very weapon it had used so well, at least once the ball got into Reynaud's hands. The junior, a threat via the reverse and kick return – he took one back 96 yards in the win over Maryland – padded quarterback Patrick White's stats and did the same with the lead WVU was nursing when he got the ball just shy of midfield and used a combination of speed, slipperiness and shocking reacceleration to run through and past a Pirate defense whose very best trait on the night in tackling betrayed it on the play.
"When I see green in front I just turn on the afterburners," he said. "That's all she wrote after that."
The 14-point lead segued into one of an insurmountable 17 when, after again holding the Pirates to an three-and-out – their fifth on the day in 11 possessions – WVU's field position at the 32-yard line via Vaughn Rivers' 20-yard runback led to placekicker Pat McAfee's 29-yard field goal for a 27-10 edge with 6:13 left in the game that was the final margin. But, for the second straight season, the series victory did not come easy. West Virginia never trailed, but did just enough right to win – and just enough wrong for ECU to stay within striking distance in a game in which it held tailback Steve Slaton to 80 net yards on 24 carries, the first time in eight games the sophomore has not rushed for at least 100 yards.
"I think they came prepared," he said, "and in their own yard everybody is going to give us their best shot. They watched some film and I underestimated them. I can't rate them the best because we have not played the whole schedule yet, but they are one of the best."
Indeed, when Slaton went right, the Pirates met him left. And vice versa. When it was said in the preseason that it would take a little luck for West Virginia to go undefeated, head coach Rich Rodriguez probably wasn't thinking about that fortune being the bounce-back of Slaton and Reynaud from an ailment as simple as cramps. Both were out of the two series' prior to Reynaud's catch-and-run. When both were reinserted, that was likely the spark WVU needed, especially after quarterback Patrick White had lacked his two marquee threats and had already thrown three interceptions.
"I couldn't even run my routes," Reynaud said. "This was the first time I ever got cramped like that in both legs. I got some ice, and it paid off. On the screen, Pat read the d-end going to Steve. When he jumped Steve, Pat went to me. I had to do something with it. I cut up the linebacker, used my speed, then cut up another guy and used my speed."
It was, literally, a game-breaker and –saver. Reynaud finished with a game-high 110 yards on five catches from White, who completed 17 of 24 passes for a career-high 216 yards and the lone score to the Luling, La. Native. Counterpart James Pinkney hit 20 of 40 passes for 247 yards, one touchdown – Aundrae Allison's 47-yarder to tie the game at 7-7 – and an interception. Stat-wise, the Mountaineers won for the second consecutive year with edges in total offense (369-317), rushing yards (153 to a whopping 41, an average of 1.7 ypc) and even a 5.6 yards per play average to ECU's 4.5. But the 17-point road win in fromt of a stadium's sixth-largest crowd ever (40,510) likely won't be enough for fans, which is a sign both of how far the Mountaineer program has come and the coaching maturation of Rodriguez.
I go back to a couple years ago when we were on the road and we would not win by enough," the sixth-year coach said. "I am not going to do that now. We got a nice win on the road and in this day and age that is tough."
The game wasn't a thing of beauty. But the only time West Virginia felt seriously threatened was when, ahead 17-7 with three minutes left in the third quarter, the WVU defense – stout to this point – allowed a 14-play, 58-yard drive, one that reached into the red zone with 14 minutes left in the game. Pinkney, who had completed passes for 12, 22 and 11 yards on the push, dropped back for the fifth time in six plays. He spied Phillip Henry coming out of his route, open in the end zone and needing just to make the grab for three-point game with the nation's No. 4 team.
Instead, Henry, who led ECU with six grabs for 54 yards, dropped the ball when Pinkney rifled it through the end zone and the Pirates had to settle for an 27-yard field goal by Robert Lee. Still within one possession at 17-10, East Carolina had a chance until Reynaud sealed West Virginia's 15th win in its last 16 games.
"That was the biggest key," Rodriguez said of Reynaud's touchdown. "It was a gut check for our guys and we needed it. I'm sure that play was the difference in the game."
The Mountaineers led 14-7 after a first half that saw three turnovers, all on interceptions, and one muffed punting chance for WVU that was not turned over. Both teams dodged potential huge turnovers, ECU tackling well and containing Slaton and getting a break when Charles Pugh dropped an interception that would have gone for a touchdown late just before the break.
That could have capped a half in which West Virginia scored on its first possession, the sixth straight game in which it has done so. WVU forced a three-and-out on the first ECU series, getting its first sack of the season on third and 10 from the 20-yard line. The Mountaineers brought an edge rusher and had very good coverage downfield. Pickney rolled slightly right and was hit by tackle Keilein Dykes. The quarterback fumbled, then recovered and was again hit and this time brought down by the junior for a nine-yard loss.
"We had some better pressure this evening," Dykes said. "We played more Mountaineer football, which is keeping a hard-edge and winning every play. We played more West Virginia defense like we were supposed to."
That stop segued into a kick catch interference call that gave WVU field position at the Pirates' 37-yard line. Six runs and a pair of wideout screens later, White punched in from the five-yard line for a 7-0 lead with 7:37 left. It was setup by a pair of Slaton runs for five and four yards, the first of which was marked by two consecutive spin moves to escape a tackle. The tailback had a 23-yard touchdown run erased by a hold on Rayshawn Bolden along the home sideline.
East Carolina immediately answered as Pinkney hit Allison for the 47-yard score along the sideline. The receiver dodged safety Eric Wicks' tackle – the senior said he lined up two yards too far outside, then had to take a bad angle – before stiff-arming another and reaching the end zone for a 7-7 game with 4:00 left in the third. ECU was forced to kick from the 20-yard line when Allison was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after diving into the end zone when the Big East officials deemed it unnecessary.
WVU was stuffed on its next possession, going three-and-out and gaining just two yards. Scott Kozlowski pinned the Pirates at the 11-yard line, however, when his 61-yard punt rolled to a stop there, part of a brilliant, 50.5 yard average from the sophomore that was all net. ECU moved the ball to midfield before Wicks rebounded with an interception of Pinkney after his pass went off the hands of a Pirate receiver.
It setup the Mountaineers near midfield, and they hit again seven plays later on a drive that featured the pass when East Carolina began selling out with the safeties to stop the run. White hit Myles for 18 yards on second and six from the 45, then found Slaton for 17 on a flare-out screen. White kept twice to move the ball to the four-yard line before faking the Slaton and rolling out on third and goal and passing to Owen Schmitt for a 14-7 edge at the 9:57 mark of the second quarter.
ECU went three-and-out again, and West Virginia dodged a near-disaster on the punt when Antonio Lewis muffed the kick, which rolled down to the five-yard line and could easily have been recovered by ECU. Lewis hit a bullet as he was scrambling for the ball, which was then recovered by the corner at the five-yard line.
WVU pieced together what was arguably its best drive of the half to move inside the Pirates' eight-yard line before White was intercepted in the end zone on third and two from the eight-yard line. Free safety Jamar Flournoy crossed into the coverage as White was rolling and picked off the pass. ECU was held to minus-one yard on the next series, and WVU went 36 yards on seven plays to move to midfield before White was intercepted in the end zone again, this time by Kasey Ross, to end the half. He had three total, a career high that bettered his two against ECU in last year's 20-15 home win.
"I just floated it in there," White said. "Coach said I probably could have run it in, or just thrown it higher. It was a bad play and a bad read."
White hit on 11 of his 16 passes in the first half for 119 yards, his two interceptions and the lone score. Slaton had just 54 yards on 13 runs. Reynaud led WVU with four catches for 50 yards. Pinkey was seven of 12 with one touchdown and one interception. The Pirates, however, were held to just two yards rushing on 11 carries, part of an 87-yard output on 23 plays. It was easily the lowest first half rushing total in recent memory. West Virginia, conversely, gained 221 yards on 39 plays and had a 17:42 to 12:18 edge in time of possession.
WVU hit a field goal on their first drive of the second half to make it 17-7 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter. ECU then moved the ball on three big passes before Pinkney fumbled on a scramble to gibe the ball back to West Virginia at the 12-yard line with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
Note: Play was stopped with 11:30 left in the third quarter on first and 10 from the ECU 18 when a fan blew a whistle from the stands.