Normally around these times, I would be writing about West Virginia Baseball and their push to host a NCAA Regional, again (!), but instead we are all stuck at home during the current COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve browsed Twitter and Facebook and while some sites are giving you their “what ifs” and the pay sites are staying on top of ‘crootin’, I’m stuck inside. With nothing to write about. Until now.
I stumbled across a tweet from Keenan Cummings asking what your iconic WVU moment is and I thought, what is the moment that I immediately think about. A lot of moments are available. There are plenty of obvious ones: Major’s run against Penn State, Slaton blowing by Greg Blue in the Sugar Dome, Schmitt’s “runaway beer truck”, Hoss’s touchdown against Oklahoma. There are other moments that aren’t as iconic but nevertheless memorable, Joseph killing a man in Texas, Joseph killing Dede Westbrook, Joseph trucking Perine (almost any Karl Joseph play, really), Grier to Jennings, but for me, there is one moment that I love. It’s one that I jumped out of my seat and knew then and there that this player was going to be great.
Stedman Bailey. Not his catch and facepalm to the Pitt defender, but his catch and then getting up against USF. The South Florida Bulls. If there was a team in the “new” Big East that I hated, it was those damn Bulls. No matter what team we fielded, the Bulls were good enough to cause us a headache. Back in the heyday, you could count on a tough game, and even a loss, to the Bulls while Pat White ran circles around everyone else. When Dana Holgorsen came, the Bulls still caused us headaches.
Entering the final game of the season, the Mountaineers were close to avenging the crowd surficng Charlie Strong by finishing the season in the right way. with a three-game win streak over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and then South Florida. The Mountaineers needed a win against USF and some help from the Bearcats in order to clinch a three-way tie for first in the Big East. The three way tie would result in the Mountaineers being the highest ranked team in the league and the de facto league champion.
For all of that to happen, the Mountaineers had to win, in South Florida and that is never an easy task. With 10:12 left in the 3rd quarter, the Mountaineers dynamic soon-to-be Mark Stoops’ personal nightmare Tavon Austin returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to give the ‘Eers a 20-10 lead.
Three minutes later, Geno Smith would throw an interception and the Bulls would start their comeback. A field goal cut the lead to 7. Following a punt, a Bulls rushing touchdown tied the game at 20-all. A 24-yard pick six would give the Bulls a 27-20 lead.
Dustin Garrison would tie the game at 27 but with 4 minutes left, the momentum felt like it was mostly with South Florida. The Bulls got the ball back and all they needed to do was drain the clock and kick a field goal. It was going to be all over for the Mountaineers in their attempt to win the Big East in their final year. Then the first miracle happened. BJ Daniels rushed for a first down and on the ensuing play, Najee Goode hit Daniel’s arm while he had the ball and popped out the leather pill. The Mountaineers would recover and take over in their own territory with 3 minutes left.
As the Mountaineers drove down the field, time became their enemy. A sack on Geno Smith and a catch by Bailey kept the Mountaineers close but the clock continued to bleed. On third and 10, USF nearly ended the game when a defender almost picked a pass off and would have taken it to the house. This set the stage for Bailey’s best catch ever.
The ball was on the 42 yard line and the Mountaineers had to make at least the 32 to keep their hopes alive. they needed to get to the 25 to give kicker Tyler Bitacurt a decent kick and not ask for a 45+ yard field goal. The ‘Eers set up in a 3x1 formation with Bailey on the short side of the field, isolated. the ball is snapped and Bailey runs a post pattern, cutting in front of the safety and snatching the ball out of the air. As he lands, he lands on the ball knocking the wind out of him. Bailey tries to get up and I imagine is holding back heaving up any food he’s ever eaten, but with the Mountaineers out of timeouts, he can’t be hurt. If he is, there will be a time runoff and the game will go to overtime. Bailey is trying to get up but he’s in obvious pain. Shawne Alston literally picks him up by his jersey so he’s up, he and Bailey try to get set but Bailey is over the line of scrimmage. He backs up, gets set and Smith spikes the ball with 4 seconds left.
Bitacurt would make the field goal giving the Mountaineers a 30-27 win over USF and following Louisville’s loss, would go on to the Orange Bowl where they unleashed 70-33.
You can watch the entire fourth quarter here or skip to 33:12 mark to see the catch.