News & Notes: WVU-Va Tech
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There were a lot of firsts when West Virginia tangled with Virginia Tech Sunday night, but only one counted — and that was the Mountaineers first loss of the season.
It was an entertaining and emotional battle, ending with WVU throwing the ball into the end zone to try and erase the 31-24 score that would be final, a play upon which the offense was called for two penalties … only three off of the total number of fouls that were called on Tech all night.
But who’s counting?
Here is a list of some of the firsts for what promises to be a wild and crazy 2017 season.
• First coin flip: Won by Virginia Tech, who took the ball in the second half. Gets Will Grier involved right away.
• First kickoff: Virginia Tech kicks it through the end zone
• First play: Grier rolls left, throws deep, Ka’Raun White makes spectacular diving grab for 32 yards, but …
• First official review: Referee Jerry McGinn rules it an incomplete pass. Took 20 seconds for an overrule.
• First completed pass: A little flare to Justin Crawford for a loss of 1 yard.
• First punt and first fair catch: Billy Kinney hits a good one, 43 yards with no return. Last special special team moment of the night for the Mountaineers.
• First tackle: CB Hakeem Bailey comes up and makes a quick stop
• First run at WVU: Quarterback Josh Jackson runs around left end, losses a yard with Toyous Avery making the tackle. He would wind up gaining 102.
• First punt return: Just like last year, ball not caught, no return on a short kick of just 39 yards.
• First first down … Grier hits Sills for 12 yards and finally someone has done something on offense.
• First WVU running play: Crawford had 1,000 yards last year. After this play he had 2 yards.
• First sack: Grier gets buried by a 335-pound nose guard on the next play.
• Tech first down: Steven Peoples runs for 11 as Tech crosses into WVU territory.
• First time out: WVU uses a time out on defense for key third and 7 play with Tech at Mountaineer 42.
• First score: Virginia Tech can’t get into the end zone from the one but gets a 22-yard field goal from two-time Groza Award finalist Joey Slye. Slye would later step out of character by missing two inside the 40, leaving the door open for wVU.
• First time in Tech territory: Grier zips one over middle to Gary Jennings for first down at 42.
• First WVU penalty: New center Matt Jones is called for holding, moving WVU back inside it’s 15 in second quarter. He would also have the second holding call in the first half.
• First breakaway run: Crawford goes through huge hole in the middle for 41 yards to ignite an 86-yard WVU TD drive. He rushed for 103 yards.
• First TD: Sills makes a spinning catch of soft floating back shoulder pass by Grier, also his first TD pass for WVU and it gave the Mountaineers a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.
• WVU’s first kickoff: Not a good one, going out of bounds just before going into the end zone. It was Evan Staley’s first kickoff for Mountaineers.
• First serious looking injury: Offensive guard Grant Lingafelter, making his first start as Mountaineer, went down with a lower leg injury.
• First WVU FG: Mike Molina, from 34 yards out … but it was typical of WVU special teams play, coming after a delay of game penalty erased one FG and then went through only after hitting the right upright.
• Dana’s first fit: On a kickoff return by Tech’s James Clark, a flag was thrown for a late hit out of bounds, setting Holgorsen off on the official, who bit back at him.
• Dana’s first unsportslike conduct penalty: Came shortly after the fit, following a holding call on the Mountaineers.
• First sensible thing on special teams: Freshman Tevin Bush was put back to return punts.
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WVU had former coach Don Nehlen, a Hall of Famer, serve as honorary captain, with Tech having its Hall of Fame-bound former coach Frank Beamer, serve in the same capacitiy.
However, the Mountaineers also had real captains for the game, too, named this year by coach Dana Holgorsen.
He took the two top leaders and most respected players on the team, West Virginian Eli Wellman, a senior fullback, and senior middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton.
“I’ve done it a little bit different,” Holgorsen said on his radio show this week. “Sometimes we have the players vote, which turns into a popularity contest which is really not what a captain is made of at times. Sometimes we have the coaches vote. What I did when I first got here was a new week it was a new captain.
“And I didn’t like that either because some of the guys I put out there game one weren’t even on the team game 10, but we did this last year,” he continued. “It was pretty clear cut, we named two guys right before the first game — center Tyler Orlosky and linebacker Justin Arndt. They had the respect of the team and were really in-tune with what was going on.”
It’s hard to argue with the choices … and Holgorsen says he will add game captains during the season for each game.
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Maybe it’s the way receivers fell by the wayside for WVU, but the public pushed the betting line up to 5 points with Virginia Tech the favorite by kickoff.
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Virginia Tech freshman punter Oscar Bradburn had never seen a football game before this one. From Australia and signed out of a Australian kicking camp, Bradburn was dominant, hitting a 53-yarder and another of 54 yards that was downed at the WVU 3.
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WVU never started a drive from beyond its own 27, which had a lot to do with bad special teams play.