MORGANTOWN — It took two overtime periods, but West Virginia finally got out of its own way enough to take advantage of someone else’s mistake.
After Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer was picked off to start the second overtime, Leddie Brown wrapped it up with a 3-yard plowing touchdown up the gut to put an end to a game riddled with penalties, turnovers and miscues as WVU snuck out with a 27-21 win over Baylor Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.
It marked the fifth loss in five tries in Morgantown for the Bears (1-1 overall, 1-1 Big 12 Conference).
After two interceptions, a fumble, 12 penalties, eight punts and five third-down conversions in 18 tries, the Mountaineers didn’t pick up manY style points on offense. But those concerns can come later.
As of the postgame, and a week after a bitter 27-13 loss at Oklahoma State, WVU coach Neal Brown was just happy to score more points than the Bears did.
“People are going to say it’s ugly, I’ll say it’s gritty,” Brown said. “My hope is we can point back to this game in this second half and us finding a way to win and not lose, which is what I was talking about after the game at Oklahoma State, we found a way to lose that game. Here at home, we found a way to win and I’m hopeful that we can point back when we get this thing rolling and we can say, ‘Hey, this is the game we kind of figured it out.’ ”
A largely uneventful game certainly had its moments of excitement down the stretch.
West Virginia took a 14-7 lead into the fourth quarter, going ahead on a 1-yard Leddie Brown plunge with 1:38 left in the third period. Prior to that touchdown, with the score knotted at 7 at the half, the teams traded five punts until the Mountaineers (2-1, 1-1) went 72 yards on 11 plays to grab the lead.
The fourth quarter was largely the same, with neither offense finding much footing. The Mountaineers seemed to have things under control, forcing a Baylor punt midway through the quarter, but it was muffed after a teammate plowed into returner Alec Sinkfield and the Bears took over at the WVU 27. But the West Virginia defense stood tall again, stopping Baylor on downs at the 1-yard line to preserve the lead.
The WVU offense was held yet again, and this time, starting from their own 41 after a WVU punt, the Bears broke through. A pivotal unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on West Virginia linebacker Tony Fields gave Baylor a new set of downs on third-and-10 and it led to Brewer finding a crossing Josh Fleeks on a 34-yard touchdown to suddenly tie things at 14 with just 1:19 remaining.
WVU took over at its own 40 after an unsportsmanlike penalty on Baylor but stalled out again, sending the game to overtime.
The Mountaineers took the ball first and, after Sean Ryan came up half a yard short on a third-down throw from WVU quarterback Jarret Doege, Neal Brown decided to go for it rather than take a field goal that would’ve put the Mountaineers up 17-14. Doege found tight end Mike O’Laughlin for a first down to the Baylor 6 and hit Bryce Ford-Wheaton for a 6-yard touchdown on the next play to make the score 21-14.
Had the Mountaineers been stopped, the narrative could have been much different. Neal Brown’s decision also came on a day that the WVU offense was largely shut down. But afterward, he said that choice was never much of a choice at all.
“We are always going to be aggressive on fourth down, and then in overtime, if you look at the numbers — and this was something that was an offseason study for me — if you get the ball first, field goals do not win in overtime,” Neal Brown said. “They were in there squeezed and they were jumping our cadence pretty good so we felt like we could throw it and that’s a play we like.”
Baylor took over and, on the first play, Brewer found Ben Sims on a 25-yard touchdown throw on a busted coverage by WVU to tie things up at 21.
The Bears started the second overtime with the ball but the West Virginia defense made one more massive stand as Tykee Smith hauled in an over-the-shoulder interception at the back of the end zone to give the Mountaineers a chance to win it.
And finally, WVU did, marching 25 yards in four plays, ending with Leddie Brown’s second touchdown run of the day.
“There’s a few things we were fighting in [last week’s 47-14 win over Kansas] that we took with us and continued to fight in this game,” Baylor coach Dave Aranda said. “To continue to fight those things and do battle with a Big 12 opponent at the same time, that can be too much.”
It didn’t appear as if it would be a struggle-marred day for West Virginia early, as the Mountaineers took the opening kickoff and marched 70 yards in 15 plays, taking 6:09 off the clock. Doege cashed it in with a 1-yard keeper on a read-option and the Mountaineers took a 7-0 lead.
But whatever West Virginia had on that opening possession was lost quickly, leaving WVU’s defense to largely fend for itself. And that’s exactly what the Mountaineers did for the majority of the game. A spirited effort, particularly from the WVU defensive front, clamped down on the Bears’ running game as Baylor mustered just 27 rushing yards on 33 carries. That also included six sacks on Baylor quarterback Brewer.
Leddie Brown just missed his third 100-yard rushing performance in as many games, settling for 93 yards on 27 carries. Doege hit on 30 of 42 passes for 211 yards with two first-half interceptions and a fumble. Sam James led WVU receivers with 66 yards on eight catches. The Mountaineers won the time of possession battle 46:53-28:07.
Brewer completed 23 of 38 passes for 229 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Bears were also penalized 12 times and missed two first-half field goals and had a third blocked.
NOTES: WVU starting guard James Gmiter missed the game after testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday. … Baylor was without four defensive players, including starting lineman T.J. Franklin. … WVU senior receiver T.J. Simmons got his first start of the season at slot but didn’t catch a pass. … Bandit VanDarius Cowan also missed the game for the Mountaineers after being injured in the Oklahoma State win.