Tavon Austin scored on a 43-yard catch-and-run and a 76-yard punt return, but it wasn’t enough to avoid West Virginia’s third straight loss. (Joe Sadlek/All-Pro Photography)
A handful of moments that proved decisive in WVU’s 39-38 overtime loss to TCU on Saturday:
1. Tyler Bitancurt bobbles an ankle-high punt snap, and TCU’s Dominic Merka returns it 15 yards for a third-quarter touchdown.
West Virginia was so disenchanted with its first two punters earlier this season that special-teams coaches switched to Bitancurt. The place-kicker has been serviceable in the punt game, but his lack of experience may have contributed to this gaffe.
Freshman John DePalma’s snap was low, and Bitancurt failed to catch it cleanly as he bent over. With the TCU rushers swarming in, Bitancurt couldn’t maintain possession. The ball popped loose and Merka, a redshirt freshman tight end, made the scoop-and-score to cut WVU’s lead to 24-21.
2. Tavon Austin’s 76-yard punt return gives West Virginia a 31-24 lead with 3:19 to play.
In the previous game, Austin’s 100-yard kick return gave WVU a spark against Kansas State. This time, the senior appeared to give the Mountaineers a victory with a fourth-quarter punt runback.
After splitting two defenders on the initial wave, Austin made TCU punter Ethan Perry miss badly on his way to the go-ahead score.
As the West Virginia sideline and Milan Puskar Stadium erupted, Austin sure thought the fifth special-teams touchdown of his career had helped West Virginia pull out a victory.
“It’s hard to get past that,” Austin said.
3. It’s Baylor all over again as West Virginia’s secondary makes an unforgivable error, allowing a 94-yard TD pass to Josh Boyce with 1:28 to play.
TCU took over at its own 15 with 2:07 left and promptly went backward as Josh Francis sacked Trevone Boykin for a 9-yard loss. In desperation mode, TCU hurried back to the line, and Boykin felt more pressure as he scrambled out of his end zone.
Some 20 yards downfield, Boyce had been funneled out of bounds by cornerback Ishmael Banks and then re-established himself on the field of play. But Cecil Level, a cornerback recently converted to safety, made a few ill-fated steps toward the scrambling Boykin, letting Boyce get free deep.
Boykin fired a strike to the wide-open Boyce, who outran Level and fellow safety Karl Joseph to the opposite end zone.
“They ran a Cover-2, the corner rolled down and the safety never came over the top,” said Boyce, who made six receptions for 180 yards.
The late-game mixup was a brutal turn for a Mountaineers defense that had put together its first decent performance since the Week 3 win over Maryland.
“Our defense created turnovers. They got three-and-outs. They created pressure. They did everything we tried to accomplish over the course of he past few weeks,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said.
“It’s sad to see them get that long pass, 80 or 90 yards for a touchdown, after they had played so well. That was tough to see.”
4. TCU’s Jason Verrett blocks Bitancurt’s potential game-winning field goal in the first overtime.
The Horned Frogs — in dire straits after Jaden Oberkrom misfired from 37 yards on the first series of OT — lined up for the block as Bitancurt sought to win the game from 36 yards out. The snap and hold were pristine, but the speedy cornerback Verrett came untouched off the right side (around WVU edge protector Tyler Anderson) and got an unfettered layout to swat down the kick.
“You have to give Jason Verrett a lot of credit for blocking the field goal,” Patterson said. “He’s come close all year.”
5. TCU goes gutsy on a decisive two-point conversion in double-overtime, with Boyce scooping up the game-winning catch.
Down 38-31, the Frogs fooled WVU with a gadget play: receiver Brandon Carter taking the pitch from tailback B.J. Catalon on a reverse and then pitching a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Corey Fuller.
“What can you say? They tricked us,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Joe DeForest. “We were in a coverage where we were fine and what happened happened. It’s a trick play. It’s like magic.”
But the actual magic occurred in the form of what TCU coach Gary Patterson did next. After extra-point unit came out initially, Patterson called timeout and decided to try for the winner-take-all two-point try.
“When you play someone on the road, you have to go take ballgames,” said Patterson, who asked his offensive coaches if they had a two-point play that made them confident. “They said they had two good plays, and I said, ‘Let’s go then.’”
What they called was a rollout pass toward Boyce, who had motioned across to become isolated against WVU cornerback Pat Miller on the right side. (It was the same two-point play TCU used to beat Boise State 36-35 last season.) Though Boykin’s pass was fired low, Boyce dove to the turf and got both arms under the ball.
“The offenses have the advantage down there,” Patterson said. “It seems like they have 12 receivers on the field.”
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