WVU wins a close call

Mountaineers stop Baylor on two-point conversion try late

West Virginia wide receiver David Sills V, left, scores past Baylor cornerback Grayland Arnold and safety Taion Sells, right, in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP)

WACO, Texas – Veteran West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen had a simple, two-word speech for his No. 23 Mountaineers at halftime of their Big 12 showdown with a winless Baylor Bears squad.

“Finish strong, finish strong, finish strong,” the leader of the Old Gold and Blue told his team following a first 30 minutes of action where WVU took a 17-6 lead thanks to a pair of touchdown catches by junior David Sills V and a defense which came up big when it had to.

The former-offensive coordinator’s message appeared to have been heard as junior quarterback Will Grier led the Mountaineers to 21 points in the third quarter to push the visitors’ lead to 25 points, 38-13.

But, it almost wasn’t enough as first year head coach Matt Rhule turned to a pair of freshmen – Charlie Brewer at quarterback and Trestan Ebner at running back – and the duo nearly brought the hosts back before senior Xavier Preston’s first sack stopped the Bears two-point conversion which would have knotted the game at 38.

“We’ll take it,” said the coach. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a third party have an effect like this guy did in the fourth quarter.

“But, winning the game is the only thing that matters. At the end of the season no one remembers the scores. At the end we needed the defense to make a play to win it and they came throught.”

The victory improves WVU’s mark to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in Big 12 play, keeping the Mountaineers’ hopes of garnering one of the league’s two slots in its championship game. West Virginia will entertain No. 10 Oklahoma State at noon next Saturday in a game which will be televised by ABC with a chance to move further up the conference rankings.

“We have just got to do a better job of closing out games,” assistant coach Doug Belk explained. “We had times when we covered well, but we got no pressure on their quarterback. Then we had moments when we got pressure and we let receivers get open. We just need to continue to work on things and stay positive. The ultimate goal is to win and we did that.”

Grier became the first quarterback in school history to pass for back-to-back five touchdown games. The University of Florida transfer completed 26-of-37 attempts for 375 yards and no interceptions.

Sills V was on the receiving end of seven of those attempts for 136 yards and a trio of scores while junior Gary Jennings Jr. hauled in eight passes for 116 yards.

During his pregame speech to his Old Gold and Blue clad players, Holgorsen stressed two things as No. 23 WVU prepared to take the artificial surface at McLane Stadium – play strong and stay tough.

The Mountaineers did just that on its first two drives of the game, scoring 10 points thanks to a 27-yard field goal from senior placekicker Mike Molina and a 35-yard scoring toss from Grier to his favorite receiver Sills V.

However, like it has done off and on during the season, the offense began to sputter as the second quarter got underway while the Bears pulled to within four points to field goals of 23 and 42 yards from sophomore Connor Martin.

Then, WVU did something it has done many times – drive 80 yards for a last second touchdown to go to the locker rooms with a 17-6 lead.

Grier’s second hook up with Sills from 16 yards out came with one tick left on the clock and quieted the Homecoming Day crowd as the two Big 12 teams left the field.

“That (the final touchdown) was big,” said Holgorsen. “Offensively, I thought we played good. We’re going up too many big plays on defense. Their game plan is obviously to keep us off of the field so we need to do a better job of getting off of the field on defense.”

WVU held a 247-164 advantage in total yards, but lost the Time of Possession by a 12:55-17:04 margin. Grier completed 15-of-19 attempts for 191 yards, but the running game continued to struggle as the Mountaineers were held to 56 yards.

Contact Jim Butta via email at mountaineersman@outlook.com