AUSTIN (AP) — After bringing the big hits all day, the West Virginia defense still had to watch as the Texas desperation pass gently floated toward the end zone and then drifted too far.
Then came the celebration.
Then the wait to see if the Mountaineers had too many players on the field and if Texas would get one last shot to win.
Nope. Game over. West Virginia’s chase for its first Big 12 championship is still alive.
Kennedy McKoy ran for two touchdowns and Mountaineers (8-1, 5-1, No. 16 CFP) earned a tough 24-20 Big 12 road win, setting up a showdown with league leader Oklahoma next week.
The Mountaineers have not yet won a league title since joining the Big 12 in 2012 but are chasing one with rugged defense in a league spends most weekends breaking scoreboards.
“They wanted to get this win pretty bad,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Our goal has always been to win the Big 12 … That defense was excellent.”
Skyler Howard passed for 269 yards and a touchdown for the Mountaineers. The defense gave up 536 yards but got four sacks, forced three turnovers and kept Texas running back D’Onta Foreman, the Big 12’s leading rusher, out of the end zone.
One of those turnovers came on a big hit on Texas quarterback Shane Buechele by Kyzir White that forced a fourth-quarter fumble inside the West Virginia 25.
Buechele passed for 318 yards and drove the Longhorns to final chance to win before his last pass fell incomplete. The Longhorns twice fought back from double-digit deficits before the final play.
“We kept taking our punches and kept coming back,” Texas Charlie Strong said. “Throw the Hail Mary and had the chance to win it.”
Foreman finished with 167 yards, his 11th consecutive 100-yard game, which tied former Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell’s Texas school record.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers came in with the Big 12’s best defense and lived up to the billing. Most of Foreman’s yards came early and the Mountaineers pounded him and Buechele in the second half. The West Virginia offense had four turnovers, three by Howard, but the defense surrendered just seven points off those. Foreman also had an early fumble.
“They give (Foreman) the ball and ride him. We had to stop him and make others make plays. We did that,” West Virginia linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton said.
Texas: The pressure is back on Strong, who now has three consecutive five-loss seasons. Texas looked to be turning things around with big wins over Baylor and Texas Tech, but the numbers game is catching up to Strong, who is facing intense speculation that he could be fired. Texas is still trying to get bowl-eligible after not making one last season.
“I really don’t worry about that,” Strong said of his tenuous job status. “I have a really good group of guys and I know they are going to play for me. They’re going to battle. They’re going to give everything they’ve got.”
The victory and impressive defense should keep West Virginia hovering around the top 10 . Keep winning at the Mountaineers can only move up.
Holgorsen could be heard using profanity and telling game officials his players were tougher than Texas when an open microphone picked his argument over a reversed fumble. The Mountaineers led 17-3 and recovered a muffed punt return when officials determined they had interfered with the catch. The Longhorns seized on the momentum change by quickly marching to a touchdown in a 10-point rally that cut the lead to 17-13 by halftime.
Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson, whose resurgent play the previous two weeks had been key to the Longhorns’ improved defense, left the game in early in the first quarter and did not return. Texas officials said he was being evaluated for a head injury. He had three tackles, including one for a loss, when he was taken out.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers return home next Saturday to host Big 12 leader Oklahoma in a game with huge implications for the league title.
Texas: The Longhorns go on the road to Kansas next Saturday.