Mountaineers stun Longhorns with last-second gamble

Alex Briseño

Texas fans screamed as they saw Devin Duvernay striding toward the end zone, begging and pleading that Sam Ehlinger noticed the wide open receiver.

He did. Forty-eight yards later, the cannon sounded, the majority of the 100,703 fans at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium erupted and Texas took a 41-34 lead in the later stages of the fourth quarter.

But there was one problem: Texas left 2:34 on the clock with Will Grier, one of the best quarterbacks in the country, waiting to take the field on the West Virginia sideline.

“I wasn’t hooping and hollering at all,” defensive end Charles Omenihu said. “I knew who was on the other sideline. My only mindset was that we had to finish this game.”

Then Grier showed the entire state of Texas why he is commonly regarded as a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

Grier took the field and led the Mountaineers to the Texas 33 yard line with 24 seconds left in the game. Longhorn fans held their breath as Grier dropped back and released the ball toward the end zone.

The ball sailed over Caden Sterns and Josh Thompson and right into the hands of Gary Jennings Jr., who planted his left foot in the end zone for a touchdown. Texas fans stood with their hands on their heads, anticipating overtime. But West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen already knew he wanted to go for the win with a two-point conversion.

Before lining up, Holgorsen looked at Grier and asked, “Hey, you want to win the game? Let’s go win the game.”

“It was an easy decision. If you put the fate of the game in No. 7's hands, I feel pretty good about it,” Holgorsen said. “We had that decision made before we even took the field. We executed a two-minute drive, scored a touchdown. The decision was already made. We've had this two-point conversion in our back pocket all year.”

The gutsy call paid off. Grier took the snap, and instead of airing the ball out as he did all day for 346 yards, he took off. The Longhorn defense failed to contain him and he bounced outside, easily finding the corner of the end zone.

Grier’s score gave West Virginia a 42-41 lead with 16 seconds remaining, and he made sure to flash the horns down before capping off a last-second victory.

After the game, Texas head coach Tom Herman approached the podium and summed up the aftermath of the nearly four-hour game with one sentence: “We’re hurting in there, emotionally and physically.”

Texas’ loss not only dashed its hopes of making the Big 12 title game, but it also featured several injuries. The Texas defense saw defensive end Breckyn Hager go down with a dislocated elbow, defensive lineman Marqez Bimage leave with a dislocated shoulder, cornerback Davante Davis suffered a sprained shoulder/neck and safety Brandon Jones sustained an injury in what Herman described as a “freak deal” at the hotel Saturday morning.

While Texas tried to handle its injury bug, the West Virginia offense, and offensive line, didn’t miss a beat, even after Mountaineer left tackle Yodny Cajuste was ejected from the game for unsportsmanlike conduct during an extra point in the first quarter.

Grier and the Mountaineers racked up 578 total offensive yards. Despite giving up 120 yards worth of penalties, West Virginia’s 232 rushing yards, combined with 346 through the air, were just enough for the one-point victory.

“He (Will Grier) got hit one time,” Omenihu said. “I’m not used to that. I haven't been used to that all year, especially with that other tackle not being in the damn game.”

Another stellar performance from Ehlinger was overshadowed yet again by another last-second defeat. The sophomore quarterback accounted for 354 yards through the air, 52 on the ground and four total touchdowns.

When the clock hit triple zeros, though, it was the Mountaineers who celebrated on the Longhorn logo as players ran around the field waving the West Virginia state flag.

“I really just hate for our offense to go out there and play the game that they did, they played a heckuva game and us,” defensive back PJ Locke III said. “As a defense, we couldn’t stop the run like we should have. We didn’t get takeaways and at the end of the day, those things play a big role in the game.”

Texas has now lost three games by a combined nine points. The Longhorns are still in the hunt for a conference title as they prepare for a trip to Lubbock for a matchup with Texas Tech.

“The silver lining is that we play in the Big 12 and everybody plays everybody,” Herman said. “We’re not out of any race at this point. We certainly don’t control our own destiny. We need a couple of things to happen. But at the end of the day, our program is built on going 1–0, and we didn’t get that done tonight.”