West Virginia junior quarterback Patrick White rebounded from one of the lowest moments of his career — sitting on the sidelines watching his team fall to the Pitt Panthers in the regular season finale — with a performance that will forever be remembered as one of the golden moments in Mountaineer history.
White, who walked onto the field with a look of confidence Superman would have envied, accounted for a team's-worth of total offense, ending the game with 326 yards on the ground and through the Arizona skies. The Alabama native rushed for 150 yards on 20 carries and completed 10-of-19 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. White is now sixth all-time on the WVU career touchdown passing list with 35, moving ahead of Mike Sherwood. Wednesday evening's effort also marked the 15th 100-yard rushing performance of his three-year career and the fifth in the last six games. White also moved up three spots to sixth place on the NCAA single season quarterback-rushing list with 1,335 yards.
"He is an excellent player," said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops in his postgame comments. "I was very impressed; I was coming in. We knew he was an excellent player, and he did a great job of seeing what was there."
Moorefield, W.Va., native Reed Williams made his home-state fans proud all evening long, continually pressuring Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and forcing the freshman standout into some critical mistakes. Williams was credited with a sack and two tackles-for-loss in the contest, and he was second on the team with nine tackles.
The former Yellow Jacket blew up numerous running plays from the Sooners, holding their talented running game to just 177 yards on the ground and forcing Oklahoma's youthful quarterback to have to try to make plays on his on.
West Virginia freshman tailback Noel Devine was thrust into the role of WVU's featured back when Steve Slaton went down with a hamstring injury in the game's opening quarter, and he responded by toting the pigskin 13 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns. His elusiveness on the ground also helped keep the Sooners from ganging up on quarterback Patrick White and assisted in creating some running lanes for West Virginia's offensive player of the game.
"The guys were counting on me, so I had to step up," said Devine. "I just went out and did what I could. I give a lot of credit to the whole linemen and Schmitt for picking up good blocks. A lot of good blocks and good coaching. We came out with a victory."
Mountaineer fullback Owen Schmitt also played a huge part in West Virginia's running game, carrying the ball three times for 64 yards. His 57-yard second-quarter touchdown was the longest touchdown run of his career, and it helped put the momentum in the Mountaineers' corner.
"Owen Schmitt is the heart and soul of our football team, and he is a tremendous young man," said WVU interim head coach Bill Stewart. "You put that guy in a pro locker room, somewhere they got to find a place for that guy. He is at his fastest in the fourth quarter."
Some called it an audition for the head coaching job, something Stewart himself was not willing to do, but no matter what the future holds for WVU's interim coach, it was clear that the New Martinsville, W.Va., native was the right man to lead the Mountaineers into the Fiesta Bowl after the departure of former coach Rich Rodriguez.
Stewart began the task of uniting a broken Mountaineer team long before the athletes boarded the airplanes for Arizona, and he displayed a confidence and spirit that never wavered throughout a very difficult month. Once on site, Stewart did a tremendous job of keeping his players' focus on Oklahoma and away from the coaching search that dominated the message boards and television screens throughout the Mountain State.
The veteran coach's contributions did not stop there, either. The former VMI field general's play-calling helped keep Oklahoma honest against the pass, creating opportunities for the Mountaineers' powerful rushing attack to take control. Then at the game's conclusion, a proud and excited coach refused to campaign for himself and instead gave all the credit to his players and fellow coaches. Stewart proved himself to be a true West Virginian, an excellent representative of the university and a very fine football coach.