MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It’s hard to win when your golden-boy starting quarterback is knocked cold in the first quarter. It’s even harder when your signal callers get sacked six times and fumble three times inside your own 30-yard line.
And it’s damn near impossible when that all happens before halftime.
West Virginia’s offense shot itself in the foot in every imaginable way on Saturday night and lost an agonizing 47-40 overtime shootout against Texas (7-2, 6-0 Big 12) at Milan Puskar Stadium despite banner days by running back Charles Sims and the Mountaineer defense.
In the extra period, moments after the Longhorns’ game-tying field goal in the final minute of regulation, Texas quarterback Case McCoy converted on two key third downs, finding fullback Alex De La Torre in the flat on the second for the decisive touchdown.
West Virginia couldn’t counter in the bottom half of overtime, its drive petering out with a game-ending interception in the end zone on fourth down from the 5-yard line.
“You’ve got to make plays,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward, his voice weary and defeated. “I don’t know what else to say.”
The defeat officially puts West Virginia’s season on the ropes. The Mountaineers (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) will need back-to-back victories -- something they’ve yet to accomplish this season -- against Kansas and Iowa State to earn bowl eligibility.
West Virginia started redshirt junior Clint Trickett at quarterback but was forced to hand the reins to backup Paul Millard midway through the first half when Trickett was sacked, fumbled and injured.
The quarterbacks combined for six fumbles, three lost, and two interceptions. They were sacked eight times.
“Overall, at the quarterback position we still put the ball on the ground way too much and put our defense in bad situations for no apparent reasons,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “It’s inexcusable.”
Redshirt senior running back Charles Sims, a redshirt senior, followed a strong performance against TCU last week by rushing for 93 yards and three touchdowns against the Longhorns’ dilapidated run defense. He added five catches for 42 yards.
The Mountaineers opened the scoring three minutes into the game when, after both teams had traded three-and-outs, redshirt junior linebacker Jewone Snow broke through to block a Longhorns punt, which tumbled through the back of the end zone for a safety. It was West Virginia’s first blocked-punt safety since 2000.
Sims capped the ensuing drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
The next Texas two drives ended in a fumble and an interception, respectively, but didn’t result in a single West Virginia point.
Then, Trickett was blasted by defensive tackle Desmond Jackson, and he fumbled. He lay motionless on the turf until the trainers arrived and was visibly shaken when he walked slowly to the sideline, blinking away the cobwebs.
“I know he got his bell rung,” Holgorsen said. “He was knocked out there for a little bit.”
With redshirt freshman Ford Childress still sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle, Millard was the only option at quarterback.
Millard missed his first five passes and fumbled twice but managed to rally enough to put the Mountaineers in position for Sims’ second touchdown scamper and a 30-yard field goal by kicker Josh Lambert to send West Virginia into halftime leading, inexplicably, 19-13.
He’d finish with 259 passing yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Millard opened the second half by tossing his second pick -- the Mountaineers’ fourth turnover inside its own 30-yard line -- and the defense held Texas to another field goal.
Sims’ third touchdown run put WVU up 26-16.
The Longhorns finally found an offensive rhythm and put together back-to-back scoring drives, the first true cracks in the armor of the West Virginia defense which to that point had only been putting out fires started by the offense.
In the fourth quarter, the teams traded scores and the lead; an 8-yard touchdown run by West Virginia running back Dreamius Smith answered by a touchdown catch by Texas’ Jaxon Shipley, answered by a 72-yard pitch-and-catch from Millard to receiver Mario Alford to put the Mountaineers ahead, 40-37, with 7:39 left on the clock.
With 2:35 remaining, the Longhorns began their final march. Kicker Anthony Fera kicked his fourth field goal of the game to send the game into overtime, where McCoy put the finishing touch on the game.
“I’m proud of the way this team fought tonight,” Millard said. “There’s been times when nobody gives us a chance but we keep going out there and fighting.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt:
, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.