Here it is, the final two plays of the season. One play galvanized the team and likely turned a mediocre season into a 10-win season. The other is quite possibly the best catch of a player’s career.
Play One - Shelton Gibson is De-Horned by DJ Reed
Some plays in a season don’t seem as big when they first happen as they are when you look back. Sometimes a player throwing a huge block turns a game around and energizes a team. Sometimes a tough first down keeps a drive alive. And sometimes a player makes a play that is immediately recognized as the game-turner.
Shelton Gibson’s catch while having his helmet ripped off by cornerback DJ Reed is exactly that. As soon as that play happened and no flag was thrown, every player, every fan, every coach became enraged. There was an immediate and instantaneous change in the mood of the Mountaineers before and after that play.
Quite frankly, that play saved the season. West Virginia was 3-0 but it really hadn’t been tested too much. BYU gave it a scare but BYU was also making its second straight East Coast trip. The game was a “neutral” site in name only. They were playing Kansas State, who was thought to be headed towards a mediocre season. Kansas State was doing Kansas State things, like boring you to death while constricting the life out of you.
Then BOOM! Shelton Gibson gets by DJ Reed, who is playing eight yards off the line of scrimmage and immediately goes into a bail technique. Howard immediately knows he is throwing to Gibson when the safety doesn’t stack Gibson. Gibson is on top of Reed within 2 seconds and has a good 3 yards on Reed by the time the ball gets to him. Unfortunately, its another underthrown ball by Howard. Gibson shields Reed from the ball and catches it over his shoulder. Gibson jumped to ensure Reed couldn’t get a hand on the ball, but Reed decided that Gibson’s helmet was good enough.
No flag was thrown. No foul was called. Normally, I’d rant about how Big 12 refs are awful and this was just one more example. It is, but the no flag galvanized the team. It pissed them off. It pissed the fans off. The energy went from ho-hum to electric. It was an immediate and swift change in tempo, energy and dynamics.
Play 2 - Daikiel Shorts Touchdown Grab Against Baylor
The Mountaineers were struggling with Baylor. Like the Mountaineers, Baylor started 6-0 and there were dreams of an 11-0 WVU vs 11-0 Baylor for the Big 12 Title and Playoff Seed on the line in Morgantown. Baylor responded to that 6-0 start by losing their next 5 games. West Virginia held steady and entered the game 9-2. No Big 12 title was on the line but it was senior day. The last time players would play in front of the best 60,000 fans.
Baylor took an early lead and midway through the second quarter held a 14-3 lead following a KD Cannon touchdown. The Mountaineers responded with a 15-play drive that featured two consecutive fourth down conversions. Dana Holgorsen knew the team needed points and not just field goals. He opted to go for it on fourth and three and gained three yards. He opted again to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Baylor 4-yard line. This time Daikiel Shorts catches a high pass from Howard and gets a toe down just inside the white line.
It is an amazing play. Stedman Bailey is by my memory, the best, most polished wide receiver we have had. He ran precise routes, he had soft hands, and he knew how to set up cornerbacks from the line and with his body. Daikiel Shorts is the second. When the team needed a tough conversion, you threw the ball to Daikiel. When the team needed a sideline catch for a first down, you threw the ball to Daikiel. When you need a touchdown on fourth down against a team that would go 6-6, you threw it to Daikiel.
Which play is our top play of 2016?
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Shelton Gibson against Kansas State
Daikel Shorts against Baylor