By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In a game of spectacular plays that turned the tide over and over, leading West Virginia University to a 30-27 come-from-behind victory over South Florida and a share of the Big East championship Thursday night, there were a couple of moments that did not get their due.
Compared to Tyler Bitancurt’s last-second field goal that won the game, to Stedman Bailey’s incredible diving catch of a fourth-and-10 pass from Geno Smith to set up the kick, to Tavon Austin’s 90-yard kickoff return and Pat Miller’s 52-yard interception return for a touchdown, these were destined to be overlooked but not underappreciated.
The first play snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for WVU and was turned in by middle linebacker Najee Goode and the second, well, it wasn’t really a play at all, more a bit of quick thinking turned in by running back Shawne Alston that allowed Bitancurt to even have a chance at his game-winning field goal, the third game-winner he has kicked since coming to WVU three years ago.
Let us set the stage for Goode’s play. Fourth quarter, time running out on the clock, game tied at 27-27, USF has moved the ball into field goal range and is now trying to milk the clock while putting the ball in closer.
The Bulls, who have been stung all season by late mistake that cost them games, ran a seemingly safe play, a quarterback keeper with quarterback B.J. Daniels, only Daniels got careless with the football, held it in one hand, dangling invitingly away from his body.
It was something Goode could not pass up.
He grabbed at Daniels and in the process hit the football with his arm or shoulder.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what happened,” he explained in the jubilant post-game interview scene. “I just heard everyone scream and the coach told us, ‘Run on the field, run off the field, run on the field, run off the field.’ I knew I’d hit the ball, but I didn’t know I knocked it loose. Once I saw Doug running with that club and one hand on it, I knew we had the ball.”
“Doug” was linebacker Doug Rigg and “the club” was the cast he wore for protection on one hand that had undergone corrective surgery earlier in the year.
Goode admits he wasn’t trying to strip the ball, only to make the tackle.
“I was thinking get him down. I knew he had the ball loose. I saw it swinging. But I just wanted to make a secure tackle and get him down,” Goode said. “When I put my hand there, I hit the ball. I knew to hold onto him so he couldn’t get after the ball. The guy with one good hand on the team recovered the fumble.”
All of sudden the Mountaineers were out of immediate peril, as they have done all season.
“Never do we want to put ourselves in those situations but, as you can see, we are that kind of team,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “We like to make it a challenge, and we always rise up to the occasion.”
The Mountaineers now had the ball and time left on the clock, driving down the field in a daring manner, converting a fourth-and-1 at their own 32 when Smith hit Stedman Bailey. Finally, in the closing seconds, still tied, they faced a fourth down and were not yet in field goal range.
Smith called his own play, went to his high school teammate Bailey on a spectacular pitch and catch for 26 yards, Bailey making a diving grab.
WVU was out of timeouts and the clock was dipping inside 10 seconds. Bailey, however, lay unmoving on the ground, completely spent.
Alston saw him there. He knew WVU had to spike the ball to stop the clock and give Bitancurt a chance at a field goal. He also knew they could get an injury timeout, for that requires a 10-second runoff on the clock in the last two minutes, which would have ended regulation without kicking the field goal.
Alston grabbed Bailey and dragged him back onside.
“Shawne is a smart player,” Holgorsen said. “Stedman was just dead. You could see it two or three plays before that. Short week, you have to give it all you got. You can rest the next four days.”
“I knew we had to spike the ball,” Alston explained. “I was just trying to get him off the ground.
“When I saw the ball in Geno’s hands and saw him throw to Stedman, we’re always told to cover the ball, so I was running down there and I saw him just lying there. I thought I’d just drag him or pick him up so we could hurry and spike it and get the field goal team on.”
Bailey was oblivious to it all.
“I didn’t think he realized what was going on. He was holding his shoulder and I just tried to drag him or pick him up at first, but I couldn’t get him. I finally got him up and looked and I wasn’t in the right spot. I had to move back,” Alston said.
The ball was snapped, the spike accomplished and the clock stopped with three seconds left.
Bitancurt took it from there.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.