Ryan Clark and J.T. Thomas headlined West Virginia's upset bid against Cincinnati.
Mountaineer fullback Ryan Clarke had a career day for the Mountaineers in the close 24-21 loss to the Bearcats to earn offensive player of the game honors. Clarke, despite getting the ball just five times, gained 60 yards rushing, including a big 37-yard touchdown on a third and two situation in the second quarter. The run, on which Clarke broke the line of scrimmage and found himself all alone, gave the Mountaineers a 14-7 lead.
Running inside Clarke helped spark a West Virginia ground attack that was hampered by injuries to Noel Devine. Clarke ran hard between the tackles, and Cincinnati's defense had trouble putting the big 240-pounder on the ground.
Clark also had a big block on Jarrett Brown's fourth quarter scramble that free the Mountaineer quarterback for a first down run.
On defense, J.T. Thomas
played with intensity to earn defensive honors. Even though the Mountaineers gave up a 437 yards, it held UC to a season-low 24 points and gave WVU a chance to win the game. Thomas had four solo stops and assisted in three others, one of which was a tackle for a loss of two yards.
Thomas' most noteworthy play came on a tackle for a loss of Isaiah Pead. On the play, he grabbed Pead's jersey with one hand while being blcoked, and managed to hold on even while being knocked to the ground by the blocker. The play prevented Pead from breaking free and led to a Cincinnati punt.
It was perhaps the biggest momentum changing call of the last 20 years of Mountaineer football Late in the second quarter with WVU up by seven points, Cincinnati drove the ball down to the goal line. UC running back Isaiah Pead leaped into the air, was hit by Robert Sands, and fumbled. Chris Neild recovered the ball, and WVU appeared to have dodged a bullet. However, upon replay review, officials decided Pead had control of the ball as it crossed the goal line before the fumble and ruled it a touchdown.
Even UC beat reporters admitted that the call was blown, and the resulting seven-point swing, not to mention the emotional effect, had a huge impact on the remainder of the game.
Keith Tandy's forced fumble was UC's first such turnover of the year, and it played a huge part in getting the Mountaineers back into the contest in the first half. The Bearcats had just taken a 7-0 lead and gotten the ball back after a punt. The UC offense had a chance to make it a two score game, but on second down Collaros hit Adrien Robinson for a 20-yard gain. Tandy, however, jarred the ball loose and Sidney Glover pounced on it to end UC's scoring threat. The Mountaineers scored on the ensuing drive to tie the game at seven-all. Had the Bearcats scored to go up 14-0 there, the game might have turned out quite differently.
Although both coaches and players emphasized that they didn't view the outcome as a moral victory, some praise has to be given for West Virginia's effort in this contest. A battered and bruised team did not quit, even when trailing by ten points with 2:03 to play, and managed to drive the field and score to give itself a last ditch onside kick attempt. Although that, like other kickoff wrinkles, failed, it was through no fault of the effort of the players. Performing in a charged atmosphere against a great team the Mountaineers hung tough throughout. Whether it was the ironman defense unit, which played with limited substitutions, or Jarrett Brown, who dodged more rushers than a fraternity president, WVU laid it on the line for the entire night.