In spite of West Virginia's offense turning in what was arguably its worst performance at Milan Puskar Stadium since a 2001 loss to Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers were able to survive thanks to another strong effort by Jeff Casteel's defense.
Despite West Virginia's offensive woes, the Mountaineers maintained a lead for all but a few first quarter minutes. For that, the credit goes to the defense, even though they were on the field for 77 plays and 35 minutes.
Perhaps the biggest play of all on Saturday came courtesy of junior spur safety Nate Sowers. The converted quarterback and wide receiver personally halted what could have been a game-changing Syracuse drive in the third quarter with an interception on second down.
After West Virginia had gone three and out for the second time in as many third quarter possessions, the Orange were driving the field on the shoulders of running back Curtis Brinkley. Trailing 7-6, the Orange moved across midfield, gradually picking up momentum with each productive play, albeit without beating the Mountaineers for a gain of more than nine yards.
After a first down Brinkley rush of three yards, Dantley dropped back to pass and looked for receiver Lavar Lobdell. Instead, he found Sowers, who timed his leap perfectly and corralled the pigskin to give West Virginia possession. Though the Mountaineers did not score on the ensuing drive, Sowers's interception thwarted a chance for SU to take the lead.
Senior linebacker Anthony Leonard also had a key moment late in the game, batting away a fourth down and goal pass attempt that could have given the Orange a lead. Leonard's heads-up play gave West Virginia the ball, and set up Noel Devine's game-clinching 92-yard scoring run three plays later.