Comeback was turning point
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- In a season of surprises, nothing so far tops West Virginia's 46-44, triple-overtime victory over Louisville on Oct. 15 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Over and over, players recall the Mountaineers' record-setting rally over the preseason Big East favorite as the turning point of their season.
"I think it was almost like a magic moment," West Virginia fullback Owen Schmitt said. "Louisville was all hyped-up, and nobody was talking about us winning the Big East and going to the Bowl Championship Series."
The 11th-ranked Mountaineers (10-1) might need to call on the experience of that emotional comeback if No. 8 Georgia (10-2) gets on top early in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome ( tickets ) .
Nothing was the same after West Virginia freshman tailback Steve Slaton burst onto the scene in the nationally-televised game against 19th-ranked Louisville. He tied a Big East record by scoring six touchdowns, including five scores in the 17-point fourth quarter and the Mountaineers' three successful overtime drives combined.
"After that, it just showed anything is possible," Slaton said. "The whole feeling in the locker room after the game was that we deserved it because we worked hard for it."
Down 24-7, and locked in crisis mode after starting quarterback Adam Bednarik went out with a sprained foot in the third quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback Pat White responded by keeping tense drives alive with his running and passing ability.
"Nobody was giving up, and nobody was panicking," White said.
That seems strange, considering White never had led the team out of a bind before. Although he had played in every game, White had not started a game all season while the Mountaineers' offense continued its search for an idenity under a co-starting quarterback system.
Although the Cardinals possessed the ball 11 minutes longer in the first half -- thanks to the rushing of Michael Bush and the passing of Brian Brohm -- Slaton got West Virginia on the board in the third quarter on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Bednarik.
"We got our chances, and we made things happen," Slaton said.
Slaton ran for a team-high 188 yards in his first extended action and scored on runs of 4, 1, 1, 23 and 1 as the rally gained momentum. His six touchdowns equaled a Big East record.
"I think we came together as a whole team in that game," Slaton said.
Slaton noted the Mountaineers didn't turn the ball over or make any mistakes during that intense comeback against the Cardinals. West Virginia didn't fumble or throw an interception, not even under pressure late in the game.
"That's helped us all season," Slaton said. "We made less mistakes than anybody in the games we won. And after that, anything was possible, We shouldn't lose any more games after that."
The boost to West Virginia's confidence also was apparent to Georgia coach Mark Richt.
"To me, as I look at West Virginia's schedule after Louisville, it looks like they really took off with a great boost of confidence on both sides of the ball," he said.
After Louisville, the Mountaineers outscored their final four opponents 156-39 on their Sugar Bowl drive.
White rushed for 571 yards and six touchdowns and threw for 336 yards and four touchdowns in his first four starts while wrapping up the conference title.
"When Adam got injured, Pat just seized the opportunity," Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Schmitt said comebacks always rock both teams involved, but mostly they give the winning team a new outlook.
"Just coming from behind, even if it was against any team, just coming from behind really said something to us," Schmitt said. "It proved to us that we had this in us. It proved, to us anyway, that if we don't give up, good things will happen."