West Virginia University football fans waited patiently for their Mountaineer defense to get its first turnover of the season. They were rewarded Saturday when the secondary picked off three Danny O'Brien passes-returning the first one for a touchdown and the last one to secure WVU's 37-31 victory over Maryland.
Those same fans, however, understood that the Mountaineer offense, which had not committed a turnover in wins over Marshall and Norfolk State, would at some point be its own worst enemy, and they saw that play out in the win against the Terrapins. Two lost fumbles and Geno Smith's first interception of the season allowed Maryland to overcome a 34-10 deficit with 11:43 remaining in the third quarter and pull to within three points, 34-31, with 10:35 left in the game.
But in a game where both teams lived - and died - by the turnover, it was No. 18 WVU that came up with the one that counted most when senior Eain Smith picked a most opportune time to snare his second career pick to kill the Terps' potential game-winning drive at the Mountaineers' 12.
You could not have scripted the 48th meeting between the two border state rivals any better if you had hired a Hollywood producer to accomplish the feat.
Maryland takes advantage of an Andrew Buie fumble to tally the game's first three points on a 25-yard Nick Ferrara field goal and then Smith leads the Mountaineers on their first scoring drive of the day to take the lead for good on a 9-yard run by freshman Vernard Roberts.
Moments later, WVU has its second touchdown of the game as Terence Garvin picks off his first career pass and returns it 37 yards for the six points as WVU runs off 24 straight points to take a 24-3 lead with 8:19 left in the half.
Not to be upstaged by its visitors from the Mountain State, Maryland becomes the first team this season to get into the end zone against the Mountaineer defense, that had allowed only seven field goals to that point, when O'Brien hits Kevin Dorsey for the 18-yard scoring strike.
West Virginia, like good football teams are supposed to do, added a 34-yard Tyler Bitancurt field goal on the final play of the half and then appeared to have taken full control of the game when it took the second-half kickoff and marched for its fourth touchdown of the game-a 34-yard pass from Smith to Stedman Bailey.
Then, however, the wheels apparently began falling off of the Mountaineers' bandwagon.
A Davin Meggett 20-yard touchdown run sliced the Terps' deficit to 18 at 34-16, and Smith's first interception of the year three plays later led to a D.J. Adams 6-yard touchdown run that cut the margin to 11 at 34-23.
West Virginia's offense, which was operating at full throttle for the first 32 minutes of action, all of a sudden forgot how to move - or hold onto - the football.
And before the sellout crowd could catch its collective breaths, the hosts were back in business and pushing WVU's offense all over the grass surface at Capital One Field before scoring for the final time on a 2-yard run by Adams.
Championship teams, however, find a way to win games when all appears to be lost and WVU showed why it is the preseason pick to win the Big East by taking the ensuing kickoff and marching down to the Maryland 4 before settling for a 21-yard Bitancurt field goal with 4:45 left.
Teams that also plan on winning championships also find a way to make that decisive play on defense when it is needed most which is what Smith did.
First-year head coach Dana Holgorsen has said from day one that his Mountaineers were a "work in progress." Saturday, they took that next step forward. Mountaineer fans will anxiously await to see how much they improve when No. 3 LSU comes to town next weekend.