Mountaineers Get Tough In Win Over Wolfpack
MORGANTOWN — A week ago, in the midst of an old-fashioned butt thumping at Missouri, West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall was being knocked around like a hockey puck, bouncing off sticks and boards.
It had an effect on his performance. When you take 20 hits, as he had that day, it creates a pain that goes through your system, from your head to your psyche.
WVU coach Neal Brown knew that and didn’t want to lose him, not this early in the year, not at a key moment in the season.
He saw the former Oklahoma backup fighting through it all.
“He’s really invested,” Brown pointed out on Saturday as the echoes of the cheers for a 44-27 victory over N.C. State died into the late afternoon.
Because of that, rather that touching on the negatives with him of the previous week, he instead offered unspoken encouragement.
“We made him a captain today because he probably puts more time in than anybody in our program,” Brown said. “And we were playing a team from North Carolina, which is his home state, so I thought it was important.”
Brown wasn’t sure how he would react, for Kendall isn’t a showman. Instead he is far more introverted than most quarterbacks.
“He enjoyed it,” Brown said. “I made him talk during breakfast this morning. I made him do some things he probably wasn’t comfortable with, but I thought he did a really good job managing the game. I thought he managed the game in the fourth quarter extremely well.”
And he may have actually had the key moment in the game, for he came to that fork in the road that all of us face in life. As he had done at Missouri, he threw an interception at the wrong time.
WVU had used some big plays to get a 31-24 lead as the third quarter was winding down and on third-and-five, Kendall went back into the pocket and threw a miserable interception to give N.C. State the ball at the Mountaineer 21-yard line.
“I knew exactly what I did wrong,” said the junior quarterback. “I didn’t step up in the pocket to deliver the ball. I kind of got knocked off my throw. The guys are trying to make the ends around me and create a seam for me to step up.
“That was on me,” Kendall added. “I knew what I did. Coach Brown knew what I did and coached me up on it and I was ready to go the next drive.”
While Brown was coaching him up, the defense was rising up to the occasion and holding the Wolfpack to a field goal. True, it meant they could take the lead with another touchdown, but it was a moral victory.
And Austin went out there and acted like … well, a captain.
He led the Mountaineers back into scoring position — oddly, not passing but running.
This quarterback who had not run this year rushed once for 13 yards and another time for 25, which is the longest run of the season by any Mountaineer.
Then, on the next play, he found Ali Jennings for a nine-yard touchdown to secure control of the game for WVU at 38-27.
It was a turning point in a game of many turning points, both early and late.
Sam James, West Virginia’s fleet wide receiver who would catch nine passes for 155 yards and a touchdown while running once for seven yards, would establish himself early, catching a 20-yard pass for a touchdown from Kendall.
It was, as so many things were on this day, a bad thing turned good for in the middle of it he almost fell, fighting to keep his balance.
“I thought, ‘Oh, no, don’t fall, Sam,’“ he recounted later.
That score came after another accidental big play. WVU tried some trickery earlier in the drive on what was supposed to be a double pass to receiver Sean Ryan, only when Ryan looked to throw, there was no one to throw to.
So, he tucked the ball, headed across field, got some blocks and turned disaster into a 24-yard rush.
Playing with a makeshift line with two new guards and a center, WVU actually helped Kendall out by rushing the ball. The Mountaineers finished with 173 yards and three rushing touchdowns, two of them from Kennedy McKoy, who finally had room to operate and gained 66 yards on just 10 carries.
The other, WVU’s last of the day that clinched the victory, came via Leddie Brown, who in his first action of the year as he came back from injury gained 35 yards on seven tough carries.
Defensively, WVU finally got tough, keeping N.C. State out of the end zone in the second half after the Wolfpack statistically dominated a 21-21 first half.
“The statement I remember vividly is, ‘One foot and four seconds,’“ said junior nose tackle Darius Stills, talking of mid-week lectures from line coach Jordan Lesley. “Don’t worry about the NFL. Don’t worry about the last week of practice. Don’t worry about the last game. Put one foot in front of you and do your job for the four seconds of that play. Do your job for that four seconds and everything will be taken care of.”
And that turned out to be wise advice.