My nephew's association with WVU football parallels Pat White's, for the most part. The Louisville game in 2005 was the first "big" game they both enjoyed. Pat coming into the game late in the fourth quarter for the injured Adam Bednarik and leading WVU to a thrilling triple overtime win, and my nephew witnessing the whole thing in amazement and enjoying the aftermath of a big WVU homecoming win. Since then we have attended three or four games at Mountaineer Field every season, and watched the games we could not make it to at his place, where our, ah, enthusiastic viewer participation would disturb no one.
Arriving at his place for the Meinike Bowl, I noticed his girlfriend's car parked outside, and I searched my memory: Had she been here for a game before? Does she know what to expect? Has she been warned?
It is not that we kick the furniture or throw things, but one never knows how a game might turn out, and I would have hated for her to see our ugly side.
The game was a few seconds old as I walked in the door—last-minute details had held me up from getting there before kickoff like usual. I got there just in time to see UNC's first punt and the subsequent quick WVU score. Whoooooo! Go Mountaineers!!! High fives and hell yeah's, as his girlfriend watches us from her chair. She is obviously not going to get involved, but that is okay. No reason for her to get excited, it is not her team.
A few plays later, and disbelief. Yates, the UNC quarterback, throws into double coverage and Lankster, the WVU corner is in perfect position to make the pick. Somehow the ball bounces off his shoulder and into the hands of Nicks, the UNC receiver, who completes the play for the TD dragging the other corner into the end zone for six.
My nephew and I groan in unison. "Can you believe that?" "How lucky can you get?" Multiple generic expressions of disbelief fill the room.
Still, it is just one lucky play. The 'Eers are moving the ball with skill and precision, the Heels are getting lucky breaks. Surely this cannot last.
Sure enough, on the next WVU possession, PW's new-found passing skills lead to a 44-yard TD strike down the middle to Arnett. Let's see you match that, UNC.
First play from scrimmage, a halfback pass—again to Nicks—goes for 66 yards and another TD. Nicks breaks tackles all the way down the sideline. Even more outraged expressions of disbelief—are these guys ever going to play football, or are they going to depend on luck and trick plays?
The game becomes a tennis match, a track meet. Score. Score. Score. At the end of the first quarter, 35 points have been scored—WVU 21, UNC 14. The defenses for both teams are useless, impotent. UNC's because of the superior talent on the WVU team, WVU's because of the unholy luck-spell that surrounds UNC, plus this guy "Nicks." Who is he? In the first quarter he has got three catches for 148 yards and two TDs.
Who is this guy?
Finally, a big defensive stop by WVU. A goal-line stand gives the 'Eers the ball on the one-foot line or thereabouts. Little Noel Devine is sent smashing into the center of the line, barely getting the ball out of the endzone. The ref signals safety! What the... That ball was clearly barely out of the endzone, not by a lot, but by enough! See, the other ref is signaling second down, but... where's the replay? They will replay this, right?
We sit, transfixed, watching WVU's head coach Bill Stewart arguing with the refs. Surely a replay now?...
But no. WVU lines up for the free kick, which Pat McAfee sends for 50+ yards, whereupon the shaky (nonexistent?) WVU special teams allows a long return to the WVU 40.
I've got a bad feeling about this.
If they take this in for six, they will end up getting nine points out of this turn of events, which is worse than just giving up the TD on the last stand. Surely not...
But yes. Lankster, the WVU corner, slips on the turf and that guy Nicks is there for the TD reception into the corner of the enzone. Now, UNC 23, WVU 21.
The rest of the half is a blur: vague memories of WVU driving, driving, getting in close for the go-ahead three, as long as they do not do anything stupid, like call for a pass into the endzone, staring down the receiver the whole time...
...which Pat White promptly does. Touchback. Drive dead. The clock expires on an amazing first half, with 44 points scored by both teams, though the pace did slow considerably in the second quarter.
My nephew's got this thing about not watching the halftime shows, so he flips channels over to "Stargate Atlantis," whereupon a short argument arises between him and his girlfriend about how much she dislikes "Star Trek: The Next Generation" compared to "Stargate"-whatever. The "Stargate" writers do seem to have the light-comedy-SF thing down pretty well, and we watch fifteen minutes of this and the time passes until it is time for the second-half kickoff.
The beers are having a time-compression effect by now, and the general impression I retain of the third quarter is not good. WVU scores three points on a Pat McAfee kick; UNC manages another scoring drive to put them up 30-24. During the drive, Nicks makes an NBA-style behind-the-back-pressed-ham catch on third down to keep the drive alive. The WVU defender, linebacker Pat Lazear, obviously thought he would dropped the ball and merely pushed him off rather than wrapping him up, allowing the completion and a crucial first down.
The end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth appear to signal disaster: a WVU series drive ends with a turnover on a fumble by WVU's Arnett when the pass from Pat White is too high to put away properly and he is stripped. Though the Mountaineer hold for a three-and-out, the subsequent punt is fielded on the WVU four by an apparently brain-dead Jock Sanders, who promptly muffs the catch but recovers his own drop.
At that moment, I make my penance to the Football Gods, which I believe turned the game around: I drop to my knees, beat my head on the (carpeted) floor in front of the TV and moan "Why, God, why? Do they not know you do not field the ball inside the 10?"
As I lay there, stretched out across the floor, my nephew's girlfriend looks slightly alarmed. She had put up with the high-fives, double-high-fives, double-high-fives accompanied by f*ck yeah's, but this... this prostration and self-flagellation is a bit unnerving.
However, the 'Eers squeeze out a 10-play drive where they convert two third downs, but decide to go for it on fourth down on their own side of the 50. Pat White is sacked for a loss on the play, and the game appears to be out of hand. UNC has a six-point lead, has the defensive edge, and seems to have the offensive edge at this point. One good thing, though—there's still lots of beer in the fridge!
Then—as the computer joke goes, "magic happens here."
Two plays after the failed fourth-down attempt, WVU gang-tackles UNC running back Draughn, folding him backwards and popping the ball out for WVU to recover. New life! Another beer! Let's get this game turned around now!
And BAM!, Pat White takes over: a 40-yard pass down the middle to Sanders. A nine-yard carry on first down. And then ZAM! a 20-yard TD pass to Arnett, another beauty.
WVU takes the lead 31-30! Time for the defense, abused and pushed around all game, but starting to tighten up lately, to hold the lead.
They do. After giving up one first down, they get their only sack of the game, a perfectly-timed blitz that knocks UNC back to the 50-yard line and forces a punt.
The action—and beer are flowing faster now. Time has lost all meaning, except for the game clock. Pat White goes back into action. Two-yard gain for Devine; four-yard gain for White; oh no, a loss on third! Got to punt it away again.
Pat Mac kicks a beauty, a 50-yarder that, strangely, is fair caught and not returned. Even the announcers comment on that, a surprise after the good returns UNC has had all afternoon. UNC starts at their 26 with 3:15 to go.
Unfortunately for them, they go to the well once too often: first down is a pass to the right for four yards; second down is a pass to the right for four yards. Third down is a run up the middle for the first down. Next it is the same pass to the right for... an interception! YES!!!
Pat Lazear, the linebacker who let Nicks get away with the behind-the-back catch, takes two steps to his left and into the path of the ball from Yates (who, upon further review, pretty much threw the ball right to Lazear and not his own guy).
Game Over! UNC has already used up its timeouts, and all WVU has to do is go into the victory formation and take a knee on three straight plays, preserving the 31-30 win and Pat White's unprecedented fourth bowl game win.
As he said later in the postgame interview when asked about his favorite play of the game, "It's taking a knee. That's the best play of all."
Yes it is, Pat, yes it is.
And thanks for everything. See you next year on Sundays.
Any beer left in the fridge? Yes!