Oklahoma Downs West Virginia in Expected Shootout
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Oklahoma won the right to face Texas in the Big 12 championship game as it scored its annual victory over West Virginia, 59-56, in as wild and crazy a football game as the 60,713 fans ever had seen.
In the end, two fumbles by WVU quarterback Will Grier that were returned for Sooner touchdowns gave Oklahoma its seventh straight victory over the Mountaineers, including all four times it has played at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Grier fumbles ruined an otherwise magnificent performance in which he competed 32 of 49 passes for 539 yards and four TDs.
His opposite number, Kyler Murray, was equally as effective with 20 of 27 passes for 364 yards and three TDs while rushing nine times for 114 yards and one score.
The victory gave Oklahoma a 11-1 record, 8-1 in the Big 12, while WVU fell to 8-3, 6-3 in the conference.
The two teams combined for 115 points and 1,372 yards.
There was something a little different in the air for this one. After all, it isn’t every day in a football season when everything rides on one game and with Texas winning earlier in the afternoon to gobble up one of the spots in the Big 12 championship game, the other spot was left open to the winner of this game.
There was something else at stake, too. How many players on these two teams were auditioning for the NFL? Certainly a dozen or more, and the press box was jumping with at least a dozen NFL general managers and scouts.
That, though, was on the back burner as both these programs — Oklahoma a traditional national power and West Virginia trying t to push its way into such prominence — were looking to find a way to sneak into the annual celebration of Alabama football that is the College Football Playoff.
The evening started with a warm recognition of the 17 seniors taking Mountaineer Field for the last time, saving quarterback Will Grier for last.
West Virginia won the toss and to the surprise of no one, elected to receive and leave the Sooner offense on the sideline.
It started with some short passes, wound up converting a couple of third downs on runs but the situation turned bleak when the Mountaineers were hit with a holding call and faced first and 20.
It mattered not, with WVU getting back to 3rd and 7 when Grier sent Sills streaking down the sideline and hit him in stride. His reach for the goal line survived a close replay and WVU had a 41-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The problem was that WVU now had to give the ball to Oklahoma and that’s always a dangerous thing. It wasn’t long before quarterback Kyler Murray was running loose on a 55-yard TD jaunt and it was 7-7.
That, however, meant returning the ball to Grier and West Virginia, which is a dangerous thing when you play defense like Oklahoma does, looking sometimes like there’s only nine defenders out there.
One of those times was when Grier handed the ball off to Martell Pettaway from the Sooner seven. Up the middle went Pettaway and he could have run all the way to Baltimore without being touched by a defender and it was 14-7.
Guess what? Moments later Murray was throwing 25 yards to a wide open Marquise Brown after being given time to eat his lunch. Instead, he ate WVU’s lunch with the TD pass and it was 14-14.
WVU cost itself a touchdown early in the quarter when Sills was called for a pick for a pass interference call while Grier hit Gary Jennings for the apparent TD. The drive ended when the Mountaineers failed to convert on fourth down, when Grier overshot a pass in the end zone.
It was a case of Grier giveth, David Long taketh away for as Oklahoma was driving trying to take advantage of that break, Murray had a first down run but Long knocked the ball loose, with the ever-present Kenny Robinson recovering at the WVU 22.
The Mountaineers actually had to punt — the game’s first by either team — and that’s like waving the white flag of surrender.
Giving the ball to Murray and Oklahoma is begging for trouble and Murray took little team collecting on the debt, throwing 65 yards to a wide open Brown, who was wrestled down at the one-yard line.
It was just a momentary glitch, for Trey Sermon ran in for the final yard and the Sooners had a 21-14 lead.
It took Grier less than three minutes to get that score back and tie the game with a 10-yard fade to Sills, the play putting the two teams over 600 yards of total offense with 4:14 still left in the half.
Oklahoma one-upped the Mountaineers again, giving the ball to their third team running back Kennedy Brooks up the middle and he didn’t stop running until he reached the end zone 65 yards away and the Sooners were on top, 28-21.
And if you think the Sooners were through for the half, forget it, for the defense had a trick up its sleeve. Caleb Kelly sacked Grier, forced a fumble, recovered it and ran 10 yards for OU’s second TD in 24 seconds and a 35-21 lead.
Not to be outdone, Grier brought the Mountaineers back down the field,to record another score to put an end to an amazing 35-28 halftime in which WVU ran 56 plays to 26 for Oklahoma, The Sooners averaged 14.1 yards a play and the half saw a total of 737 yards gained.
It looked as though Oklahoma might be ready to blow things open as the Sooners drove down the field to open the third quarter, but Mountaineer safety Kenny Robinson made an acrobatic interception in the back of the end zone to get the ball back in Grier’s hands He didn’t keep it long, hitting Jennings with a 57-yard TD toss to tie it a 35-all.
Oklahoma again moved down the field got into scoring territory but, on fourth and inches, had a false start, and elected for a 37-yard field goal from Austin Seibert to edge them back out in front at 38-35.
For a moment, no one knew how many points to put on the scoreboard on anything less than a touchdown, but WVU took care of business by adding another one to take the lead at 42-38. Grier set it up with a 52-yard pass to Jennings to take the ball to the two, and on third down, Grier cleaned it up by sneaking into the end zone.
That put the total yardage at 1,008 and the point total was up to 80.
And it just kept coming. Murray, facing third and 10 at his 25, threw for 30 and 45 yards and a TD to Marquise Brown to give Oklahoma 45-42 lead. Seventeen seconds later Grier threw 75 yards to Jennings for another score and WVU was back in front 49-45.
That gave Jennings 201 receiving yards in the third quarter… alone. He had 24 at the half.
If you thought things would slow down in the fourth quarter, you were wrong.
Oklahoma came out and scored again, Murray throwing on fourth and goal from the two-yard line to Grant Calcaterra, who was so open that the closest person to him in WVU colors was a member of the band.
That put the Sooners in front 52-49, and disaster was about to strike Grier for a second time as Kenneth Mann hit him as he was about to pass The ball popped out, was bumped around, and then picked up and run 48 yards for a touchdown by Oklahoma’s Curtis Bolton.
Down by 10, WVU shrugged, ran its offense like nothing was wrong and scored again, Martell Pettaway running 17 yards for a touchdown to draw the Mountaineers to within a field goal at 59-56.
The Mountaineers then toughened up on defense after failing to recover an onside kick, as Dravon Askew-Henry made a third down tackle for a loss. However, Murray scrambled on fourth down, completed a first-down pass and now it was WVU against Oklahoma and the clock.
WVU lost both those battles.