MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Jackie Matthews’ goal-line pass breakup with 45 seconds left preserved West Virginia’s 27-21 victory over 15th-ranked Virginia Tech here at Milan Puskar Stadium before an energized capacity crowd of 60,222.
The fact that today’s game came down to Virginia Tech’s final offensive possession is reflective of the unpredictable nature of rivalry games.
“I felt like if we could get to 30 (points) the game was won,” West Virginia coach Neal Brown said. “There weren’t enough possessions in the game, and we were running the football well enough that we could run it out. But we didn’t. We just didn’t manage it very well the last two drives.”
West Virginia (2-1) jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, and had the Hokies down 24-7 at halftime behind the outstanding running of senior Leddie Brown. His first carry from scrimmage resulted in an 80-yard touchdown and he showed 116 yards by halftime. He finished with a game-high 161 yards on 19 attempts.
Jarret Doege threw a 29-yard scoring pass to Bryce Ford-Wheaton and followed with a 16-yard touchdown strike to Sam James, who hauled in the ball at the 11 and made a couple of nifty moves to get into the end zone.
Before James’ score, Virginia Tech (2-1) got a 23-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Burmeister to Tayvion Robinson to complete an 11-play, 75-yard drive.
Then came some more unpredictability during the final two minutes of the first half when West Virginia seemed poised to take a commanding 28-7 lead. WVU’s drive began at its own 17 with 5:34 remaining, and, aided by a roughing the passer penalty called on Jordan Williams, got to the Hokie 2-yard line on Brown’s 11-yard jaunt.
Here, West Virginia’s three goal line plays consisted of an incomplete Doege pass to Isaiah Esdale in the corner of the end zone, a Doege run for a loss of two yards and Doege’s incomplete pass to James in the back of the end zone.
This required Casey Legg to come onto the field to boot a 21-yard field goal with 1:41 left on the clock, meaning the Hokies still had plenty of time to get into position to try and get some points.
That became a reality when Raheem Blackshear’s ensuing 78-yard kickoff return put the ball at the WVU 22-yard line with 1:29 left and Tech still in possession of two timeouts.
Burmeister advanced the football to the WVU 2 with 21 seconds left and the Hokies still holding one timeout, but Tyrell Smith was called for a false start moving the ball back to the 7. Burmeister’s pass intended to Robinson in the end zone then fell incomplete, and John Parker Romo’s chip-shot field goal try sailed wide right
Therefore, instead of the score potentially being anywhere from 28-7 to 24-14, it remained 24-7 at the break.
At the beginning of the third quarter, West Virginia took the opening kickoff and marched 55 yards to the Virginia Tech 27 to put Legg in range to successfully boot a 44-yard field goal, his fourth in four tries this season. The drive ate 6:38 off the clock, but it wasn’t quite enough to put the Hokies away.
Burmeister, who was sacked six times for a loss of 42 yards, kept Tech alive with his scrambling and down-field passing. His 39-yard hookup to tight end Drake Deluliis down the far sideline gave the Hokies and first down at the West Virginia 31.
Following a pair of negative plays totaling 14 yards, Burmeister took advantage of West Virginia’s drop-eight coverage to scramble 25 yards for a first down to the Mountaineer 20.
“He’s fast, I’m not going to lie,” West Virginia linebacker Jared Bartlett said. “The idea coming into the game was getting him off his spot and making him get past his second read to get into a rhythm throwing the ball. That was basically our plan for defending him.”
The next play resulted in Blackshear’s 20-yard run around right end to paydirt with just one second left in the third quarter, reducing West Virginia’s lead to 27-13.
WVU’s first possession of the final period ended at the Virginia Tech 46 when TyJuan Garbutt sacked Doege from behind and his fumble was recovered at the WVU 48 by Alan Tisdale.
West Virginia’s defense came up with its second red zone stop when Virginia Tech was repelled at the Mountaineer 6. Bartlett produced one of his three sacks when he fired off the edge to haul Burmeister down from behind at the 9 with 5:54 left.
“Their tackles were good, I’m not going to knock them down or anything, but my advantage in pass rush is speed and just trusting my speed on the edge (is what) really helped me out today,” Bartlett said.
The Mountaineers’ were only able to advance the football five yards and burn 1:06 off the clock before punting the ball back to the Hokies. The only positive of this offensive possession was Virginia Tech using two of its three timeouts.
Burmeister passes to Turner and Kaleb got the ball to the WVU 22, but the quarterback lost seven when Taijh Alston and Jordan Jefferson combined to sack him at the 29, bringing up third and 17.
As was the case during other third-and-long situations, Burmeister found open space in the WVU defense and completed a pass to the far flat to running back Jalen Holston, who eluded three tacklers to score.
Romo’s conversion kick made reduced West Virginia’s lead to 27-21 with 3:10 to go.
The Mountaineers’ second opportunity to salt away game ended in disaster when Jermaine Waller stepped in front of Doege’s screen pass to Esdale, and he returned his pick 11 yards to the WVU 17.
Two runs advanced the ball to the WVU 3, giving Tech and first and goal with about a minute and a half remaining. Holston met a brick wall on his first rushing attempt, and his second try up the middle was sent backwards a yard by Lance Dixon and Nicktroy Fortune.
Following a timeout with 1:01 showing, a scrambling Burmeister tried a pass to Turner in the far corner of the end zone that landed out of bounds, bringing up fourth and goal. On the next play, Burmeister again managed to buy extra time with his legs, but his pass angling back to toward the middle of the field to Turner was broken up by Matthews at the goal line.
“I was excited for Jackie, for one, and I was exciting for my team because we won the game on fourth down,” Bartlett said. “There was a lot of joy in the moment.”
West Virginia was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty while celebrating Matthews’ play, making its kneel down to run out the clock a little more tenuous from its own 2.
However, Doege was able to nudge the football forward a yard to run out the clock.
West Virginia used both of its quarterbacks Doege and freshman Garrett Greene, who came into the game periodically to provide a spark in the running game. Greene actually carried the football on West Virginia’s next to last offensive possession of the game.
“There is a science to it,” Brown explained. “It’s not easy to kind of sit and go in. We had a drive there when he dropped a snap. We had a pass play we felt really good about with him in the game but they did a couple of things when he was in the game that was a little different than they were doing when Jarret was in the game, but I thought (Greene) did fine. He was real excited early and missed a big run but he came back later and had a couple of good runs.
“We’ll get better at playing both of them,” Brown added, which means Greene is going to continue to see action.
Today’s victory ends Virginia Tech’s three-game winning streak in the series and returns the Black Diamond Trophy to Morgantown for the first time since 2003, when WVU upset the third-ranked Hokies 28-7.
“I’m just glad we brought the trophy back to Morgantown,’ Leddie Brown said. “That was a big thing we had at the beginning of the week. They had the trophy like 6,000 days and coach Brown was counting it down and we brought it back.”
“Football has such a swing of momentum, and I think everybody felt it in the stadium,” Neal Brown added. “Winning is hard. I thought this was going to be a defining moment for this team and where we’re at.”
Doege completed 15-of-26 for 193 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Greene came in the game to run four times for 28 yards.
West Virginia out-gained Virginia Tech on the ground 180 to 106.
Burmeister completed 19-of-31 for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
Prior to today’s game, West Virginia officially inducted its 2020 WVU Sports Hall of Fame class of 11, which included football standouts Dick Leftridge and Ron Wolfley.
Today’s victory was West Virginia’s 49th over an Associated Press ranked team and Brown’s second at West Virginia. His Mountaineers defeated 16th-ranked Kansas State 37-10 here last season. Four of West Virginia’s all-time ranked wins have come against the Hokies.
West Virginia returns to the road to face third-ranked Oklahoma, which defeated Nebraska 23-16 earlier today., next Saturday night in Norman The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ABC.