When the Mountaineers lost to South Florida a week ago, they also lost a chance to go back to the BCS for the second straight season. There was still plenty to play for, but not nearly as much as it could have or should have been. With no shot at going to the BCS remaining, many people wondered how Rich Rodriguez's team would respond.
Rutgers, on the other hand, had everything it had ever dreamed of to play for. The Scarlet Knights were closing out a surreal season in which they won 10 games for the first time in 30 years. For them, the task was simple: win, and go to the BCS for the first time in school history. Lose, and go to the Texas Bowl. Admittedly for a program that had only been to one bowl in the last 30 years, the fact that win or lose they would again be playing in the postseason spoke to how far they had come as a program. For established programs though, success is measured by championships. After Saturday night, the Scarlet Knights are still searching for their first Big East title.
Jarrett Brown, West Virginia's redshirt freshman backup quarterback, got the nod over the injured Patrick White just prior to kickoff. Brown, who hadn't played in a close game all season, then proceeded to calmly lead his team to a thrilling triple overtime victory. West Virginia's 41-39 win will likely earn it a berth in the Gator Bowl, though a slim chance still remains that the Mountaineers could be headed to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tx.
The Scarlet Knights took an early lead, courtesy of sophomore tailback Raymell Rice, who dashed 16 yards into the South end zone. In fact, the Knights went into the locker room feeling pretty good about themselves with a 10-6 lead. Though the offense had not played great, the defense had held All-American tailback Steve Slaton in check, and only given up a pair of Pat McAfee field goals.
The Mountaineers marched down the field to start the second half, culminating with Slaton's one-yard plunge into the North end zone, giving West Virginia a 13-10 advantage. A few minutes later, it looked like the Mountaineers had seized control courtesy of a 40-yard touchdown scramble by Brown.
The Knights would not go away easily. Rutgers countered immediately with a 72 yard touchdown pass from Mike Teel to Tim Brown, who had toasted the West Virginia secondary on the play. Kicker Jeremy Ito tied the game with a 21-yard field goal with less than 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Ito again connected from 30 yards later in the fourth, capitalizing off of a Brown interception, which was his only mistake of the game.
With the time running short, West Virginia moved the ball downfield and set up McAfee for a game tying field goal with less than a minute to play. McAfee's kick was good, but the play was blown dead to reset the game clock. After the housekeeping was worked out, McAfee calmly drilled the tying field goal. Ito's 52-yard attempt with seven seconds on the clock fell just short of the goalpost, and the teams were headed to overtime.
Rutgers took the toss, and elected to play defense first. The Knights held strong, and West Virginia was forced to kick yet another field goal (McAfee's career-high fourth.) Likewise, the visitors could muster very little offensively in the first overtime, and after the initial extra frame the teams remained gridlocked.
After trading touchdowns in the second OT, West Virginia took the ball to start overtime number three. On second-and-seven from the 22, Brown rolled to his left, and just before crossing the line of scrimmage lofted a high arching toss to an open Brandon Myles in the end zone. The senior from Goochland, Va. held on to the ball, setting up a mandatory two-point conversion attempt.
West Virginia's offense came out with three receivers bunched to the right. Brown took the snap, and found a wide open Dorrell Jalloh for the two-point conversion. It was the second career conversion for Jalloh, who also caught the game-winning conversion pass from Patrick White during last season's 46-44 triple OT win over Louisville.
Just as they had done all night, the Scarlet Knights answered. Rice sneaked in from a yard away, setting up the dramatic converstion attempt. Teel looked for Rice in the end zone, and momentarily it looked as though the sophomore would haul in the pass. West Virginia cornerback Vaughn Rivers, though, knocked the ball away and the celebration began in Morgantown.
"What a ball game," said a jubilant but exhausted Rodriguez following the win. "I'm very proud of the guys. No one panicked tonight.
"This was a great win for us," he continued. "I told (Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano) that he has a great team and a lot to be proud of."
As for the play of Brown, that spoke for itself. The West Palm Beach, Fla. native completed 14-29 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball 17 times for 73 yards and a score. Most of all, the youngster did not show a single jitter, despite the fact that there were 60,299 screaming fans at the stadium, and millions more watching across America on national television.
"We have every confidence in Jarrett Brown," said Rodriguez. "He did a great job of using the opportunity he was given. His one bad throw, his interception, was a bad call by me."
Slaton, the Doak Walker Award finalist, finished with 112 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns. Rice led Rutgers with 129 yards and two touchdowns on 29 totes. Junior quarterback Mike Teel finished with a career game, going 19-26 for 278 yards and a touchdown. Freshman wideout Kenny Britt caught 10 passes for 119 yards.
On paper, the Knights outgained the Mountaineers by 13 yards. On paper, the Knights (at full strength) should have beaten the injury-ridden Mountaineers. At the end of the day, it was a great college football game between two good teams. No piece of paper can argue with that.