FORT WORTH, Texas — The 2019 West Virginia University football season did not go out with a whimper on Friday.
The Mountaineers, already eliminated from bowl eligibility, struggled to do much of anything positive the entire game before a late touchdown pass from Jarret Doege to Isaiah Esdale lifted West Virginia to a 20-17 win at TCU. The loss also keeps TCU out of a bowl game this season.
“Huge win to finish the year,” first-year WVU coach Neal Brown said during his postgame press conference at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium. “It has been a long year, but I thought our guys battled. We played, really, three poor halves. We’ve been in every league game the whole season with the exception of Oklahoma in the fourth quarter, but we haven’t won enough. The last three games of the season, we win two of those — two on the road — versus some really proud programs. It’s big for us in this first year of us building a program and playing a lot of young guys.”
The Horned Frogs (5-7 overall, 3-6 Big 12) got the ball first and were driving near midfield when quarterback Max Duggan’s pass was broken up by WVU safety Sean Mahone and eventually intercepted by Mountaineer freshman Tykee Smith, who returned the ball deep into TCU’s side of the field.
West Virginia (5-7, 3-6 Big 12) quickly capitalized on the TCU mistake. Doege’s first pass of the day was complete to Sean Ryan for 10 yards and two plays later Doege, a Bowling Green trasnfer starting his third game this season for WVU, found sophomore running back Leddie Brown open out of the backfield for a 4-yard touchdown pass.
WVU’s defense held off the Horned Frogs again on the following drive, but after a West Virginia three-and-out it was the Frogs’ turn to score some points.
TCU’s Taye Barber opened the drive with a 64-yard run down to the WVU 11. Duggan went for 7 yards on the next play before Sewo Olonilua had back-to-back 2-yard runs to cap the drive, and Jonathan Song’s extra point tied the game 7-7 with a little more than five minutes to play in the quarter.
The Frogs opened the second quarter with another scoring drive, but this was a long one.
TCU took over at its own 33-yard line and on the final play of the first quarter Barber ran for 29 yards. Once the quarter changed, the Frogs went to work grinding on the West Virginia defense. The Mountaineers, however, held strong at the end as TCU was forced into a Song field goal rather than a touchdown to go ahead 10-7.
WVU responded with a scoring drive of its own.
Doege, Brown and receivers T.J. Simmons and Sam James each had a hand in moving the Mountaineers down the field but the drive stalled inside the TCU 25-yard line. Evan Staley’s 40-yard field goal attempt was good and tied the game 10-10.
West Virginia got the ball to start the third quarter, but like the Frogs in the first quarter the Mountaineers threw an interception on the first drive of the half. On the fourth play of the quarter, Doege went deep over the middle and was picked off by TCU’s Ar’Darius Washington. The Frogs couldn’t do anything with the possession and were forced to punt back to West Virginia. WVU, however, couldn’t do anything with its possession either and was forced to punt.
The Mountaineers have been pretty good defending against punt returns this season, but that broke down Friday when TCU’s Jalen Reagor — one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country — found some room to run and took a Josh Growden punt 70 yards for a touchdown to put the Frogs ahead 17-10.
The WVU defense helped keep the Mountaineers in the game all day, and did so again late in the quarter when Mahone got his hands on a Duggan pass to give the Mountaineers possession.
“[WVU defensive coordinator] Vic [Koenning] and the defensive staff have given us a chance all year,” Brown said. “Guys have bought in. We’ve been able to get pressure and I think our defensive front has been the difference. We flew around today. We only gave up one touchdown against their offense, and they’ve been really good running the ball. We kind of bent but never broke in the second half.”
Senior running back Kennedy McKoy opened the drive with a 36-yard run — West Virginia’s longest run from scrimmage all season — but the Mountaineers were held to just a field goal on the drive.
Both defenses played well into the fourth quarter, as neither team was able to find much room to do anything on offense in the final period before West Virginia’s final drive, which covered 61 yards in seven plays and was capped with the 35-yard pass from Doege to Esdale, who just slipped in the front corner of the end zone by the pylon for the game-winning touchdown.
Doege finished the game 20 of 35 passing for 158 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. For TCU, Duggan went 16 of 37 for 149 yards with two interceptions. As a team, West Virginia managed just 244 total yards compared to 297 for the Horned Frogs.
As a result of the loss, TCU coach Gary Patterson will miss a bowl game with the Frogs for just third time in 22 seasons.
“Can’t give ball games away,” Patterson said after the game. “Can’t play offense on second-and-15. Can’t keep drives alive with personal fouls. Plain and simple.
“Only a few times in my life since I’ve been here that we’ve lost when I hold people under 300 yards. And that’s happened twice this year. There won’t be any players talking. They’re not very happy with me right now and I’m not very happy with them to be honest with you. I feel sorry for my seniors I couldn’t get them back to a bowl game. Simple as that.”