LANDOVER, Md. — With months invested into a game that frittered away during the waning seconds, West Virginia resorted to finger-pointing.
Only this was self-blame.
David Sills spoke in a confessional whisper about dropping what could’ve been his third touchdown catch on the penultimate play.
Quarterback Will Grier lamented zipping the throw too low.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson faulted his ill-timed blitz for a 46-yard quarterback dash that Josh Jackson used to set up Virginia Tech’s go-ahead score.
Linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton acquitted Gibby for the blitz call by saying the defense should’ve executed nonetheless.
And head coach Dana Holgorsen, assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct that pushed his offense out of field-goal range in the third quarter, pleaded guilty.
The Mountaineers invariably will — and should — categorize Sunday night’s 31-24 loss as one that got away. They sizably outgained the Hokies by pilling up 592 yards, the second-most ever in a WVU loss, and ran an additional 17 plays.
Fourteen of those snaps transpired during the closing 1:55, after a missed kick by Virginia Tech’s Joey Slye kept it a one-score margin.
Down the field Grier & Company maneuvered, the new quarterback sporing the look of Moses and then hurdling a defender like Edwin Moses to pick up a first down. (“He’ll fight for that first down,” said offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “There’s going to be some conversations about protecting himself in those situations, but he’s wanting to win.”)
Eventually the Mountaineers reached Virginia Tech’s 15-yard line, squeezed for time with 9 precious seconds remaining.
What happened next was a play Spavital said “devastated” Grier and Sills.
Sills ran to the middle of the end zone, jab-stepping away from a defender. And Grier, making a subtle slide in the pocket, found a lane to throw. He fired a shin-high pass that appeared accurate enough to force overtime, but Sills’ lunging attempt to scoop the throw didn’t pan out, and the ball ricocheted away.
“Will gave me a chance and I just didn’t make the play,” said Sills, whose nine catches more than doubled his career total. “He gave me a shot and I’ve got to make that play — bottom line. I’ve got to make that play for him, for my team and the fans.”
Grier didn’t let his receiver bear the burden, saying of the throw: “That’s one where I’d like to get it up a little bit more for him.”
Spavital wouldn’t let either player be indicted, stressing how nearly four hours of call-and-answer football presented multiple openings for the offense to better capitalize.
In the kind of high-risk, high-reward opener that left fans roaring, we saw a rivalry renewed to long-forgotten anxiety levels. It detracted very little that in typical Week 1 fashion, we also watched the fruits and foibles of two imperfect teams.
Losing it didn’t satisfy anyone on the Mountaineers side, yet by preaching self-accountability they struck the perfect response. That should serve them well as they re-inflate for the long season ahead.