West Virginia stuns No. 13 Hokies, 21-18

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 21, 2002

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- November in Blacksburg always seems to have Big East championship implications, and it did again Wednesday night. This time, though, it was West Virginia that stayed alive.

The Mountaineers (8-3, 5-1 Big East) ran all over No. 13 Virginia Tech for three quarters and then made two huge defensive stands in the final minutes to preserve a 21-18 victory -- and their hopes for a title.

First, the Mountaineers stopped the Hokies on three straight rushes from inside the 1-yard line, the last with 3:51 left. Then, Brian King intercepted Bryan Randall's pass into the end zone with 12 seconds left -- a questionable decision, considering the Hokies were easily in range for the tying field goal.

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"This is a big thing," West Virginia linebacker James Davis said. "We needed to show everybody around the world that we've got a good team."

The loss was the third in a row for Virginia Tech (8-3, 3-3), which started 8-0 and had dreams of a national championship.

One year after finishing 3-8 and in disarray, West Virginia can gain a share of the Big East title if No. 17 Pittsburgh beats top-ranked Miami on Thursday night and the Mountaineers then beat the Panthers on Nov. 30.

Winning this one was a good way to get ready for a big finish.

The Mountaineers came in with the nation's No. 2 running game, averaging 295 yards, and proved itself against the rapidly deteriorating Hokies.

Quincy Wilson ran for 125 yards on just 11 carries, including a 42-yard touchdown run, and the Mountaineers gained 263 yards on the ground.

The Mountaineers also struck quickly, with drives covering 80 yards in five plays, 70 yards in five plays and 86 yards in six plays

Wilson's big run, with 4:09 left in the third quarter, gave West Virginia a 21-10 lead, and some breathing room it sorely needed.

It was the play of the game until the closing minutes, when the Mountaineers' defense was called on -- twice -- to finish off the victory.

On the goal-line stand, set up when Lee Suggs ran 8 yards on first-and-goal from the 9, West Virginia twice stopped Suggs, including on fourth down. Suggs said he crossed the goal line plane, but the officials didn't agree.

After gaining only 2 yards on three straight rushes, West Virginia punter Mark Fazzolari stepped out of the end zone for a safety with 2:30 remaining, pulling the Hokies within a field goal of forcing overtime.

The Mountaineers' strategy backfired when Todd James' free kick went out of bounds, giving the Hokies the ball at midfield with 2:26 left. Randall started driving his team, getting a first-and-10 from the 11 with 21 seconds remaining.

Randall's first pass was low and incomplete. He dropped back to pass again, scrambled around and threw for the left corner of the end zone. King was there, and the Mountaineers were safe.

"In the last five minutes, I've never been so proud of a defense," Rodrigues said. "The crowd was pushing them. They had all the momentum."

Coach Frank Beamer didn't blame Randall for the play, saying he told the sophomore "If you feel like you've got a play, take it. … I made sure he was going to throw it in the end zone. If it wasn't there, I wanted him to throw it away and let's kick the field goal and go into OT.

"I don't fault him a bit. We lost this together," Beamer said.

Earlier, Suggs made history because of his ability to get into the end zone, running 28 yards down the left sideline for the first touchdown. It gave him at least one TD in 24 straight games, breaking an NCAA Division I record he shared with Bill Burnett of Arkansas, who did it in 1968-70.

Suggs also had a 27-yard scoring run called back by a holding penalty, and after five more plays -- and a holding call -- the Hokies had to punt.

"That's a bad time to be holding," Beamer said.

West Virginia scored twice in a span of 3:24 to take a 14-7 lead. A 56-yard gain by Derrick Smith on a quick slant from Marshall set up Cobourne's 9-yar TD run. And Wilson's runs of 24 and 27 yards on consecutive plays set up Rasheed Marshall's 7-yard run early in the second quarter.