WVU’s Final Drive At Oklahoma State Comes Up Empty
This was what Will Grier had waited his whole life for, a chance to make the play.
This was going to be his Joe Montana moment, his Tom Brady moment.
It was probably — no certainly — the most important moment of the most important game he had ever played.
And he did all he could and, when it was over and it hadn’t happened and West Virginia had lost to Oklahoma State, 45-41, it was disheartening but not disgraceful, disappointing yet in some ways uplifting for he was inches from one of those heroic moments that lives forever.
The West Virginia quarterback had built a 31-14 first half lead over Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Saturday in a game that would have launched the Mountaineers into a showdown with Oklahoma that could have sent them to the Big 12 Championship game and maybe more.
But things went sour in the second half and OSU had rushed down the field on its final possession behind its own big-play quarterback, Taylor Cornelius, and scored a go-ahead touchdown that gave the Cowboys a 45-41 lead.
That left WVU just 42 seconds and 75 yards to negotiate after the kickoff.
Not when you have Will Grier. He threw for 11, for 33 — both to Gary Jennings — and for 15 to David Sills, moving the football to the Oklahoma State 14-yard line.
Two seconds remained.
He lined his team up. The play came in. The ball was snapped. Oklahoma State blitzed. Grier scrambled to his left.
Sills came from the right side across the end zone. He had a step on his defender. Grier, off balance, threw the ball, much as Montana had done to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship game, a play that came to be known as “The Catch.”
But this pass floated just a bit and OSU cornerback A.J. Green, one-on-one with Sills, came flying across, leaped at the last moment, stretched his left arm across his body and batted the pass away.
It was over, and WVU was 8-2 while Oklahoma would be 10-1 next week when the two meet.
There remains a chance to get to the conference championship game, but no one was thinking of that at this moment.
What really had happened?
“There were 42 seconds left,” Coach Dana Holgorsen would say later. “You can sit there and say I can’t manage the clock if you want to, but (Grier) drove us 50 yards down the field and we almost scored.”
So close and maybe it was a good coaching move on the other side that cost WVU the victory.
“I didn’t think they would blitz,” Holgorsen admitted.
But they did and it threw the entire play off, forced some improvisation and in the end changed history.
The way the day started it seemed that it would be all sunshine and roses for WVU.
In the first half, the Mountaineers had their way offensively, mixing passing and running, getting great play out of running back Kennedy McKoy, who had two touchdowns and 130 yards by the half, much of that due to some demolition from blocks by tight end Trevon Wesco.
Grier threw his touchdowns to Jennings, and Sills and the lead was 31-14 at halftime.
But things changed.
“They had a little bit better mindset down the stretch than we did so it’s disappointing that we had a chance to close them out and didn’t,” Holgorsen said. “We didn’t do it. Great teams do.”
The difference was Taylor Cornelius, the quarterback on the other side, a 6-foot-5, 230-pounder who proved that patience is rewarded.
In an era where players transfer if they get their feelings hurt, the Cowboys’ fifth-year senior sat around for four years, waiting for his chance and when it came this year, he got off to a bad start but came on strongly.
“That dude is a good player, gotten better every week,” Holgorsen said. “He’s been there a while. We couldn’t get pressure on him. We couldn’t get off blocks. He’s a 6-foot-5 guy, scrambled around and kept his eyes downfield.”
He finished with 338 yards and five touchdowns passing.
Oh, and he also ran for 106 yards.
Mostly, though, he was calm throughout, bringing his team from behind, getting the ball for one last drive when he needed a touchdown to win or a field goal to tie and had three big plays along the way, including the 11-yard winning throw to Tylan Wallace.
That did it. Grier couldn’t quite match it on his final play and so now everything revolves around Friday’s Oklahoma game … but instead of going into it flying high, the Mountaineers have to shake off a tough defeat.