All game long, Louisville's defense had done precisely what they had hoped by making White throw the football while bottling up his game-breaking running skills. Sure, White had popped off some nice runs, but nothing like the one move and gone to paydirt moments that college football fans have become accustomed to over the past three seasons. Through the game's first 58 minutes, White and the Mountaineer running game had accumulated just 166 yards rushing, well below its season average of 297 yards per game. But with one dazzling, Pat White-like play, West Virginia's junior quarterback crushed the upset hopes of the Cardinals, and added yet another Mountaineer memory to his ever-growing legend.
After Louisville kicker Art Carmody tied the game with a 37-yard field goal, White and the West Virginia offense took the field for the final time hoping to get game-winning points on the board in any way possible. On the drive's fourth play, West Virginia's junior signal-caller dropped back to pass, looking to move the chains and get his team closer to field goal range. With nothing opening up downfield, White tucked the ball, made a move, and dashed 50 yards to the end zone, assisted by a gorgeous downfield block from wideout Tito Gonzales. White punctuated his run by pointing to the sky as he crossed the goal, the ball tucked cleanly high and tight in his left hand, and West Virginia's eighth win of the season pinned squarely to his back.
"He's fast, man, he's fast," said Louisville defensive lineman Earl Heyman. "He's a very talented player. That's why he's up for the Heisman. He proved it tonight."
"You've got to give a lot of credit to Pat," added embattled first –year Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe. "He's a great football player, and he makes a play at the end of the game to win it."
Of course for much of the game – particularly the second half – it didn't look like either team was readily trying to win the game. The Big East's top two offenses combined for seven turnovers. Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, he of just 19 interceptions in three plus seasons of college football heading into Thursday night, threw two fourth quarter picks, though the second came on a Hail Mary as time expired. Slaton, who was plagued by two injured wrists and three fumbles at Louisville a year ago, again had problems holding onto the ball, as did White. The dynamic duo combined for five fumbles, with Slaton losing one and White losing two.
West Virginia's self-inflicted wounds were not limited solely to turnovers. Averaging just shy over five penalties per game prior to Thursday, the Mountaineers were flagged a season-high 11 times for 116 yards. Five of the 11 penalties resulted in Louisville first downs.
"We certainly made enough mistakes to last a whole season," said head coach Rich Rodriguez afterward.
"As I told the team, I would rather win ugly than lose pretty."
To be fair, it's not as if the entire game was a stinkfest. The Mountaineers jumped out to a 14-0 lead, with White and receiver Darius Reynaud connecting for a pair of first half touchdown passes. After a Brian Brohm to Gary Barnidge touchdown pass pulled Louisville within seven, Slaton answered with a 1-yard plunge on fourth down and goal to cap off a 12 play, 69-yard march that took up nearly six minutes in the second quarter. Brohm answered with a touchdown run of his own on a quarterback sneak with less than two minutes to go in the half to pull the Cards to within 21-14 as the teams headed to the locker room.
In the second half, the Mountaineer defense made what may have been the game's most important play on a Louisville third down and long with just under seven minutes to go in the third. With Brohm scanning the field for an open receiver, West Virginia linebacker John Holmes blindsided the senior quarterback with a bone-crushing hit, jarring the ball loose and into the hands of senior safety Eric Wicks. The Pittsburgh native scooped up the pigskin, slipped a tackle, and sprinted 44 yards down the sideline for his third career defensive touchdown, sending the mostly gold-clad crowd of 60,992 into a frenzy as the West Virginia lead ballooned to 31-14.
"Everything just got quiet," said Holmes of the play. "It felt like it was just me and Brohm."
"They brought the blitz. They had two coming off the end," recalled Brohm. "We actually had the right protection called, but the guard didn't fan out to the right guy so the guy on the end just came free…the ball came loose, and they took it to the house. That's pretty much it."
Of course it was Wicks who stopped Brohm short of the goalline two seasons ago in Morgantown as West Virginia erased a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to win 46-44 in triple overtime. Just as that last game in Morgantown, this one seemed destined to go down to the wire.
This time, it was West Virginia with the 17-point second half lead while Brohm and the Cardinals began to peck away. Fullback Brock Bolen got the ball rolling with a two-yard touchdown run that put the exclamation point on a possession resulting from Slaton's fumble. Brohm later found stud receiver Mario Urrutia for a 12-yard scoring strike, with Carmody's field goal tying the game and ultimately setting the stage for White's game-winner.
Brohm finished 27-46 for 345 yards with two scores and two interceptions. Running back George Stripling led Louisville (5-5, 2-3) with eight catches for 105 yards.
For the second straight game, White accumulated at least 300 yards of total offense, finishing with 181 through the air and 147 on the ground with three total touchdowns.
"I told my team you have to walk out with your heads held high," Kragthorpe said. "It was like a heavyweight fight out there with Ali and Frazier. Everyone was throwing haymakers out there, but Pat was just good at the end."