In sports, long seasons and long careers can come down to a single moment in time. Nearly everyone who has ever played sports has been in their backyard and said or imagined the following, “Game 7 of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, down by 1 and up steps the batter, he can win it all right here”. Just writing those words brings me back to the times I stood in the backyard, dreaming of hitting a game-winning homerun. It reminds me of the times I did have a game winning hit or a game-saving out. The times we held for one final stand in football or kicked a game-winning field goal.
Neal Brown and his third-year football team finds itself in a position where there season hangs on the balance, needing a win against the Texas Longhorns in order to prolong their season by at least one more game. Sitting at 4-6, this isn’t Game 7, bottom of the ninth, but it is Game 6 when your team is down 3 games to 2. The team must win this game just to get to the next game. Losing on Saturday ends any chance of a bowl but a win doesn’t guarantee it - as much as having Kansas the following week can be.
Neal Brown faced a very similar scenario in 2019, when his team started 3-1 before dropping five straight games, including three games against ranked teams - two of which were on the road. Staring a losing season in the face, the team went on the road for the third time that season to face a ranked team and came back with a 24-21 victory over the Kansas State Wildcats. Now at 4-6, the team had staved off elimination for a week but still needed to win another ranked game to keep their hopes alive. At the end of the third quarter, against #20 Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers went ahead 13-10. Down 20-13, on a fourth and 12, the Cowboys blitzed seven and ended the game.
Now the Mountaineers find themselves needing two more wins. They get Texas, at home. It’s a noon game, not at night. The stadium may not be at full capacity. Can the Mountaineers find a way to keep their season alive, at least for one more week? That question is at the heart of most fans right now. Fans love this team but it is very hard to be invested emotionally when the progress is slow. Its very hard to see progress when its the same problems week in and week out.
Its a shame this game isn’t a night game because the circumstances definitely deserve a night game. This isn’t just West Virginia who is fighting for their season. Texas, following a hysterical, demoralizing loss to Kansas, in overtime, also sits at 4-6 and fights for their life. Can you have an elimination game before an elimination game? Much like a single elimination tournament, its lose and go home for one team.
This current Mountaineers team has proven they can rise to the occasion when they are counted out. They came back from a 2-4 bye to beat TCU and then put on their best performance of the year against Iowa State. What the team hasn’t shown is the ability to sustain success, but they can certainly overcome failure.
Nothing through 32 games has shown that the team has given up. Players are still fighting hard and giving effort. Even Neal Brown said as much on Saturday following the loss to Kansas State. The coach hasn’t lost the team, but now the coach and the players are down to a win-and-advance, lose-and-go-home option here. They need to overcome a Texas team that has proven to be explosive on offense, averaging nearly 40 points a game, but giving up over 32 a game. They can rack up the yards on offense, averaging over 430 a game, but giving up the same amount on defense. They allow over 200 yards a game on the ground. The opportunity is there, if the team is just willing to stand in the backyard, dreaming of that World Series moment.