We’ve been dwelling in 2011 for most of this series, so it’s time to start looking elsewhere in our journey through the worst moments in West Virginia Mountaineers fandom. We’ve breezed through recruiting blunders, conference expansion insiders, and a couple tough losses. We’re finally in the thick of it now.
As we prepare to flip the calendar over to August, we’re crossing over into the most heartbreaking, the most embarrassing, and the most infuriating moments that’s sure to make you want to take that leap off the Star City Bridge.
Today we’re going to talk briefly about one of the most blatantly obvious penalties that somehow didn’t get called. A missed call so important that it changed the course of not only the game but the rest of the season and a career.
After a dreadful 4-8 season in 2013, the West Virginia Mountaineers looked to rebound in 2014 with a senior Clint Trickett in his second year in Dana Holgorsen’s offense and a receiving corps led by future NFL first rounder Kevin White and Mario Alford.
Things got off to what was actually a really good start, all things considered, when the Mountaineers squared off with Nick Saban’s juggernaut Alabama Crimson Tide in the Georgia Dome. While the Tide did indeed roll, the Mountaineers showed that they had were as talented as the preseason hype led you to believe. Trickett completed 64% of his passes for 365 yards and a touchdown, while Kevin White racked up 143 yards and a touchdown against Bama’s vaunted defense. West Virginia avoided getting blown out - a common occurrence in Alabama openers - ultimately losing the game 33-23.
West Virginia entered the backend of the 2014 season with an impressive 6-2 record - with a win over the No. 4 ranked Baylor Bears. Despite their 45-33 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in week four, a Big 12 championship was very much still in play for the Mountaineers. Trickett was averaging 345 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and less than an interception per game, and was beginning to hear his named mentioned in Heisman trophy conversations.
And then November 1st happened.
With the No. 20 Mountaineers on a roll, and the No. 7 ranked TCU riding into town, ESPN College GameDay announced they’d be taking the trip down country roads to return to Morgantown. The spotlight was once again cast on West Virginia as the Mountaineers prepared to take on the Horned Frogs for the outright lead in the Big 12 Conference race. The atmosphere, much like that before the LSU game in 2011, was absolutely electric once again. The Smoking Musket flag waved proudly behind Chris Fowler and the gang as celebrity guest picker Brad Paisley declared that the game that afternoon would be the start of West Virginia’s ascension.
It looked as if Paisley had nailed his prediction as the Mountaineers took control of the game quickly. Trickett hit Mario Alford for a 23-yard passing touchdown on the first drive of the game. Tony Gibson’s defense held the Horned Frogs to a three-and-out on their first possession, giving West Virginia the ball and the momentum. The Mountaineers settled for a field goal on their next drive to go up 10-0, and recovered an onside kick to give Trickett another shot at putting points on the board.
On the first play of their third drive, Clint Trickett saw an opening, tucked the ball and ran between his center and left guard into what looked to be wide open field on his way to a first down. TCU linebacker Josh Carraway made the play up to meet Trickett two yards past the line of scrimmage, bringing him down with one of the gnarliest facemasks I’ve seen in college football.
Video credit: Mike Casazza
Carraway’s blatant facemask penalty went uncalled, as a very obviously rattled Trickett staggered to his feet. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs had to be pulled apart by the refs, as the crowd rained down jeers toward the Big 12 officiating crew.
Trickett continued to play in the game, but was obviously feeling the effects of having his head nearly ripped off his body. What looked like a well-oiled machine on the first couple drives had turned into a clunker that was sputtering its way along. Thanks to a great performance to hold TCU to their lowest offensive output of the season by the defense, the Mountaineers still managed to hold their lead - minus a three minute stretch in the third quarter when TCU held a one point lead - until literally the very last second.
With 4 seconds remaining on the clock, TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom knocked down a 37-yard walk off field goal to put the Frogs in sole possession of the Big 12 lead.
This moment would go down as one of the most crucial moments in a promising season, and possibly served as the beginning of the end of a career. The game set off a three-game skid for the Mountaineers, with losses to the Texas Longhorns and Kansas State Wildcats following it. Trickett’s production dropped from 345 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and less than an interception per game to 150 yards, 0 touchdowns and nearly 2 interceptions per game over the length of that skid, until his football career came to an end after he suffered another concussion during the Kansas State game.
I’m not a big fan of “what-ifs” but one has to wonder what would have happened that season had Clint Trickett not been publicly beheaded in Morgantown that night.