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Throwback Thursday: WVU vs South Florida, 2011

In this edition of Throwback Thursday we look back as WVU closes out the season with three close wins against Big East rivals culminating with Stedman Bailey's season saving catch against South Florida.

J. Meric

Most WVU fans are used to seeing WVU fall victim to unlikely occurrences that keep WVU from achieving greatness. During the 2011 season WVU seemed to flip the script coming up with the big plays and close wins that eventually led them to a historic Orange Bowl victory.

After losing to Syracuse and Louisville earlier in the season WVU found itself with a win loss record of 6-3 and its Big East championship hopes quickly fading. WVU needed to win out and have things fall their way in order to win the Big East. In true WVU fashion its last three regular season games were as dramatic as possible. What was not so characteristic was WVU ended up on right side of all three of those games (winning all three by a combined 7 points) with Stedman Bailey providing the final heroics to put WVU in the Orange Bowl.

First, WVU traveled to Ohio for a matchup against the Cincinnati Bearcats. After Cincinnati starting QB Zach Collaros was injured early it looked like WVU might roll.

Unfortunately, Munchie Legaux and the Bearcats had other ideas and the game was not decided until WVU's special teams saved the day blocking a potential game tying field goal as time expired.

After a bye week WVU hosted Pitt in the last Backyard Brawl. Like the Cincinnati game this game went to the wire with WVU winning in dramatic fashion sacking Pitt's quarterback four times on the final drive to preserve a one point win and bragging rights in the Brawl for at least the near future.

Going into their last game of the regular season WVU needed a win against South Florida in order to put them in a position to get a BCS berth. If there was one Big East team that gave WVU fits it was the Bulls. South Florida had frequently played the part of spoiler during WVU's Big East days upsetting the Mountaineers in 2006, 2007 and 2009. If WVU wanted to earn an invitation to a BCS bowl game they needed to beat the Bulls and hope for a Cincinnati win over Connecticut. That scenario would create a three-way tie at the top of the Big East standings between Cincinnati, WVU and Louisville. WVU would win the tiebreaker as a result of their earlier win over Cincinnati (Sorry Butch!).

After a tight first half South Florida closed within 3 points early in the 3rd quarter, but Tavon Austin returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to put WVU up by 10.

Entering the fourth quarter the game had yet to see an offensive touchdown and the score stood at 20-13 for the good guys, but with 10 minutes to go in the game South Florida reeled of 14 points in less than a minute. First quarterback B.J. Daniels scored on a short run and then a few seconds later Geno Smith threw a pick six and just like that the Bulls were up 7. On the next possession a costly penalty by South Florida kept a WVU drive alive, and with 5 minutes left WVU responded and knotted the game up at 27 a piece on a short scamper by freshman running back Dustin Garrison.

Following the Garrison touchdown, the WVU special teams gave up a long kick return that gave the Bulls the ball at the WVU 40 yard line. WVU had no timeouts left and when South Florida got a first down inside the WVU 30 yard line with less than three and a half minutes left it looked like another South Florida upset was in the offing. The WVU defense stepped up to the challenge and Najee Goode stripped B.J. Daniels giving WVU possession and life. A rejuvenated Mountaineer offense took the field with 3 minutes and 74 yards standing between them and a potential Big East championship. Four quick plays later WVU found itself within striking distance of field goal range, but on the fifth play Geno took a sack and WVU was back on its own side of the field with less then a minute to go. After a chaotic sequence where WVU threw an incomplete pass on 3rd down, USF was flagged for illegal substitution, and then the call was overturned, WVU faced a 4th and 10 with 13 seconds left. That's when Stedman Bailey provided a catch for the ages:

The unbelievable catch was almost nullified when a hurt and fatigued Stedman had to be dragged off the ground by Shawn Alston so WVU could spike the ball (if play had to be stopped for injury a ten second run off would have been imposed and since WVU did not have any timeouts the result would have been the end of the game as there was only six seconds left after the catch). WVU clocked the ball with three seconds left in the game setting the stage for Tyler Bitancurt to hit the game winner.

The next week Cincinnati did its part and dispatched UConn giving WVU a share of the Big East Championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl. With an extra month to get acclimated to Coach Dana Holgorsen's offense Geno, Tavon, Stedman and crew did not disappoint shattering several bowl records on way to a 70-33 rout of Clemson.

Hat tip to @STUKID82