MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s defense had Virginia Tech’s fourth-and-goal attempt from the Mountaineer 4-yard line covered so well one could think that the Mountaineers knew what was coming.
As it turns out, that’s not far from the truth.
Hokies quarterback Braxton Burmeister’s pass was knocked away by WVU defensive back Jackie Matthews with 45 seconds remaining, setting off a raucous celebration and preserving the Mountaineers’ 27-21 win.
During spring practices, summer workouts and preseason camp, the Mountaineers practiced situational football ad nauseum. Part of that was working on 2-point conversion scenarios.
The Hokies’ last play wasn’t for two points, but it was a similar yardage. As luck would have it, when No. 15 Virginia Tech lined up and sent a receiver in motion, coach Neal Brown immediately knew what was coming. And so too did his team.
“We work 2-point plays over and over and over again — well, the play they ran is one of our favorite 2-point plays to run,” Brown said. “It’s repetition. I could see it unfolding within my eye. I saw the guy go in motion, did what we call a little orbit motion, came back out and I thought our guys on the back end did a great job matching it and we had some pressure coming from inside out.”
Tech’s speedy quarterback rolled to his right only to find all of his options blanketed with no escape route.
“We switched it off and that was great,” Brown said. “It was a really good job and we played it like we’d seen that play before, which we had and they’ve covered it numerous times.”
PIVOTAL TACKLES: There were so many big plays both early and late that were pivotal in West Virginia sneaking out with a narrow win, but in the aftermath, the first plays that came to Brown’s mind were small ones.
The two that came up in the postgame press conference were tackles made by Malachi Ruffin and receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton.
After Casey Legg booted a 21-yard field goal to put WVU up 24-7 with 1:41 remaining in the first half, Virginia Tech’s Raheem Blackshear fielded the ensuing kickoff, found a seam and raced into WVU territory with a clear field ahead. However, WVU’s Ruffin ran him down, tackling him at the Mountaineer 22 and saving a touchdown.
Virginia Tech settled for a 24-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide right off the foot of John Parker Romo. That sequence played heavily in the final score.
“At the time nobody thought about it,” Brown said. “They’re probably in position, they’re probably going to score anyway, but lo and behold Malachi Ruffin really saves it. Now we know that was a huge play in the game.”
Ford-Wheaton’s tackle came after WVU quarterback Jarret Doege was intercepted by Virginia Tech’s Jermaine Waller, giving the Hokies the ball back at the West Virginia 17-yard line with 2:11 remaining in a six-point game.
“We make a bad throw and all the sudden momentum swings, but there’s a play right there when Bryce [Ford-]Wheaton comes in and makes a tackle,” Brown said. “On defense we’re always talking about, ‘Make them snap it again, make them snap it again,’ and that was a huge play in the game because it did, it make them snap it again.”
HALL OF FAME: With last season’s fan restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 class of the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame class was honored during a break in the first half of Saturday’s game.
Inducted with the 2020 class were Da’Sean Butler (men’s basketball), Jedd Gyorko (baseball), Janae (Cox) Asbury (gymnastics), Janis Denise “JD” Drummonds (women’s basketball), Dick Leftridge (football), John McGrath (men’s soccer), John Rost (rifle), Clara (Grandt) Santucci (women’s cross country/track), Tom Shafer (baseball) and Ron Wolfley (football.
BRIEFLY: While playing one old, bitter rival, the public address announcer at Milan Puskar Stadium took the time to update the crowd on another in the first half. Pitt had fallen behind 20-7 to Western Michigan, and when the score was displayed on the big screens, it was met by overwhelming approval from the crowd. ... West Virginia picked up its fourth win against Virginia Tech while the Hokies were ranked, improving to 4-8 in that category. ... The Mountaineers improved to 32-13 in nonconference games since 2010 and are 24-1 in such games at home. .. Saturday’s final broke a string of three straight games of Virginia Tech holding opponents to 17 points or fewer.