Oklahoma wins shootout over West Virginia, 59-56, for spot in Big 12 title game
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson had just left his team’s locker room Friday night after the 59-56 loss to Oklahoma when he met with reporters.
He sat in an auditorium seat, speaking softly, mostly looking forward while describing an emotional scene he disiked immensely, but never will forget.
The game was not only the last for the WVU senior class at Milan Puskar Stadium, but the loss kept the No. 12 Mountaineers (8-3, 6-3) out of next Saturday’s Big 12 championship game. No. 6 Oklahoma (11-1, 8-1) gets that prize and will meet Texas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“The kids are in there crying and hugging,” Gibson said. “Whether it’s Kenny (Robinson) and Jabril (Robinson), who have been here for one year, or it’s Dravon (Askew-Henry), who’s been here for five. That part hurts, stings. I hate for those kids to have to go through that.
“That’s the worst part about this job. That, and playing Oklahoma.”
Oklahoma scored eight touchdowns and recorded 668 yards of offense, led by quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Kyler Murray, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 364 yards and three scores. He added another 114 yards on the ground, including a 55-yard run for the Sooners’ first touchdown.
Murray, a two-sport star who was the Oakland A’s first-round draft choice in this year’s MLB draft, caught the attention of West Virginia quarterback Will Grier.
“He’s the fastest human I’ve ever seen in my life,” Grier said. “He’s going to steal a lot of bases.”
Oklahoma wide receiver Marquise Brown caught 11 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns and running back Kennedy Brooks added 182 and one score on the ground.
But the difference in the game were two defensive touchdowns by Oklahoma on fumble recoveries after strip sacks of Grier by Caleb Kelly and Kenneth Mann in the second and fourth quarters.
Kelly recovered the first and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown and Curtis Bolton scooped up the second and ran 48 yards to give Oklahoma a 59-49 lead with 9:58 left in the game.
“I wanted to make a bad situation better by throwing the ball away,” said Grier, who completed 32 of 49 passes for 539 yards and four touchdowns. “And both times I couldn’t find an angle to do it. I pride myself on ball security.”
West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said the second fumble almost became a big play for the Mountaineers.
“If we have that ball for a fraction of a second longer, we have two guys running wide open down the field,” he said. “If you go back and look at it, I don’t think anybody was within 20 yards of (wide receiver) David Sills on that one.”
Despite the fumble, Grier’s 539 aerial yards were the second-most in WVU history; the 704 total yards were third-most. Overall, the teams combined to collect 1,372 yards and 16 touchdowns.
But two plays in which no points were scored also helped decide a game that WVU led, 49-45, entering the fourth quarter.
Sills was involved in one of them in the second quarter when he was called for pass interference in the end zone while Gary Jennings (7 catches, 225 yards, two scores) was making what appeared to be an 8-yard touchdown catch.
“I ran the route pretty much how I was coached to run it,” Sills said. “I think (the Oklahoma defender) kind of bumped into me (trying to stay with Jennings), but that’s something that the refs called and it’s out of my hands. I’ll have to not do that the next time I run it. We have to live with it.”
WVU ended up giving up the ball on downs.
Another penalty didn’t take points from the Mountaineers, but it played a huge role in the game’s outcome.
With Oklahoma ahead, 52-49, in the fourth quarter, WVU running back Kennedy McKoy reached the 1 before he was knocked out of bounds. Behind him, wide receiver T.J. Simmons was blocking an Oklahoma defender several steps out of bounds. Officials ruled it a personal foul and the ball was brought back to the West Virginia 43.
”I didn’t even know that was a rule until tonight,” Spavital said. “You teach the kids to play with an edge and play with physicality and finish everything you do and I thought T.J. did a good job of finishing that play. Going to have to teach them something new.”
Three snaps later, Grier fumbled and Bolton’s scoop and score was the final blow for West Virginia.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.