MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Perhaps it’s poetic justice that it was Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro who not only drew first blood but also landed the final dagger against West Virginia on Saturday, his touchdown catches bookmarking the Red Raiders’ 37-27 come-from-behind victory at Milan Puskar Stadium.
It was the Mountaineers, after all, who knocked Amaro out of action for two months last fall with internal bleeding from a spleen injury. Saturday was his redemption and a déjà vu problem for West Virginia (3-4, 1-3 Big 12).
Amaro somehow managed to top his five-catch, 156-yard day last October with a near-repeat performance on Saturday in his first trip to Morgantown, catching nine passes from freshman quarterback Davis Webb for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
“You can’t cover him,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Even when you cover him he makes plays.”
Amaro, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound “matchup nightmare,” as defensive coordinator Keith Patterson put it, quite literally carried the load for No. 16 Texas Tech (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) through its fourth-quarter comeback.
West Virginia held an 11-point lead late in the third quarter and even led 27-23 with 10 minutes remaining in the game before Webb, making his second career start, engineered a seven-play, 84-yard drive to take the lead on a touchdown dive by running back Kenny Williams.
The drive was sparked when Amaro took a dump pass by Webb, shrugged off a would-be tackler and rumbled downfield, dragging another defender for 10 yards before finally being wrestled down after a 37-yard gain.
“He’s like an offensive lineman playing as a receiver,” redshirt senior safety Darwin Cook said. “You really can’t just hit him, you’ve got to wrap him up.”
Amaro sealed the game with a minute remaining by pulling in his second 10-yard touchdown catch of the day from Webb, who finished with 462 yards on 36 of 50 passing.
West Virginia knew the challenge at hand.
When asked Tuesday to size up Amaro, Holgorsen replied, “What year is he? Hopefully he’s gone next year.” Amaro is a junior. “Oh, yeah, he should come out [and enter the NFL draft],” Hologorsen said with a chuckle. “Clearly he should come out after his junior year.”
“He’s gonna be an all-pro,” Patterson said after the game, listing every bracketing and coverage technique the Mountaineers employed, unsuccessfully, to contain Amaro. “He’s a handful.”
But as much as the Amaro-led Red Raiders owned the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers gave it away. They kept an unbeaten, ranked opponent at bay for three quarters only to crumble in the final straightaway.
An offense buoyed by the two-headed running attack of redshirt senior Charles Sims and redshirt junior Dreamius Smith, who combined for 166 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the afternoon, ground to a halt in the fourth quarter.
Redshirt junior quarterback Clint Trickett, named the starter despite a nagging shoulder injury, was 27 of 43 passing for 254 yards and a touchdown, but his offense gained just 29 yards in the fourth quarter and limped to the finish line with three consecutive three-and-out drives.
The end result was the Mountaineers taking their first home loss of the season and Texas Tech maintaining its unblemished record while spoiling homecoming in Morgantown. Red Raider coach Kliff Kingsbury, Holgorsen’s protégé at Houston, is the first coach in Big 12 history to start 7-0 in his debut season.
It was a game that, much like West Virginia’s season, was punctuated by wild momentum swings.
West Virginia coming off a bye week, looked rusty out of the gate and fell behind 13-0 before roaring back to deadlock the score by halftime with two field goals sandwiched around a 38-yard Smith touchdown run.
All told, once Trickett found Sims at the far-side pylon to cap the first drive of the second half, West Virginia had scored 20 unanswered points before the Red Raiders finally registered a field goal midway through the third quarter.
But Texas Tech issued the final, definitive response with three consecutive touchdowns in the last 18 minutes of the game to claim the 10-point victory.
“When you have somebody down, you’ve got to smell it, like sharks in the tank, and go out and take it,” Patterson said.
Holgorsen didn’t question his team’s effort but admitted “the will to win was not there.”
“You could see it on the sidelines,” Holgorsen said. “In the fourth quarter, we didn’t have the will to knock them out, and that’s disappointing.”
He shook his head.
“It’s a game we should have won.”