The narrative easily could have been different coming out of Saturday’s battle for the Black Diamond Trophy had West Virginia’s defense not come up with a goal-line stand in the final minute to turn away No. 15 Virginia Tech in a 27-21 win for the Mountaineers.
It likely should not have come to that, but a couple of busted plays on long third downs by the Virginia Tech offense as well as a ghastly late interception thrown by WVU quarterback Jarret Doege set the stage for some late, albeit likely unnecessary, drama.
The interception came on a third-and-10 play from the Mountaineer 25-yard line with just over two minutes remaining. A first down would have likely sealed a win for West Virginia (2-1) and the pick, made by Virginia Tech cornerback Jermaine Waller, nearly had the inverse affect.
In his postgame news conference, WVU coach Neal Brown went into the thought process of the play and pointed to the circumstances around it.
On second down, backup quarterback Garrett Greene entered and rushed for 5 yards, setting up a third-and-5 from the 30. Greene stayed on the field but guard James Gmiter was flagged for a false start, moving the offense back 5 yards and bringing Doege back out onto the field in a third-and-10 passing situation.
“The [false start] penalty that we got was big,” Brown said. “We felt like we had a play there with Garrett in the game there on third-and- that we felt good about. Whether it would’ve worked or not, who knows? But when it goes into that third-and-long, you felt like you had to throw it here and try to get it because they were going to have plenty of time.”
And while the defense bailed out the offense, if it hadn’t, the heat falling on Doege and Brown this week would have been scalding. For his part, Brown took responsibility for the play.
“I take ownership on it, that’s my play on third down,” Brown said. “Third down, they’ve got no timeouts, there’s three minutes to go, we haven’t punted the ball very well, we hadn’t swung the field other than one time, so on third down you’ve got to go for it. That’s a play we had hit for 35 or 40 yards during the course [of the game] and they played it. Credit to them.”
NO DESPERATION: After that play, the sell-out crowd of 60,022 was certainly on edge, but a Mountaineer defensive unit suddenly tasked with winning a game it already had played well enough to win was not.
At least not according to senior safety Alonzo Addae.
“Not desperation at all,” Addae said. “At the end of the day, we want for the game to be on the line and it be on us, to be honest with you. We pride ourselves on playing great defense here, so it was just another opportunity to go out and make a stand and bring home the win.”
Addae said there was no panic in the huddle either, nor was there any talk about what had happened in the game to that point.
“We were just talking about the job we’ve got to do,” Addae said. “We’re not looking back at the game or anything, we’re just telling each other, ‘This is on us. If they don’t get in here, we win the game, so it’s time to make plays.’”
ELECTRIC ENVIRONMENT: Addae, now in his third year with the program after transferring from FCS New Hampshire, is in his second as an active player after sitting in 2019 due to eligibility issues.
All of last season, Addae played in front of no crowd at Milan Puskar Stadium or severely limited crowds due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Saturday’s sellout, combined with the resumption of a rivalry that had been played just once in the last 16 years, created an environment not seen in Morgantown in quite some time. It was one Addae said he’d never seen before.
“This is the biggest game I’ve played in here,” Addae said. “It was great. Crazy atmosphere. I stayed after the game too and was able to talk to some of the fans. The love that people in this town bring, I’ve never been a part of anything like it, so it was a great experience.”
BRIEFLY: With 161 rushing yards, Leddie Brown eclipsed 2,000 for his career, becoming just the 20th player in program history to do so. ... Jared Bartlett made three sacks from the bandit position on Saturday. That was the most by any Mountaineer since Darius Stills recorded a trio of sacks against Baylor on Oct. 31, 2019.