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Mountaineers Look to Stay Hot, Change Tide in Series Against Cowboys

Coming off a big win against Iowa State on Saturday, the 4-4 Mountaineers will be looking to win their third straight football game.  Coming to town will be the No. 11-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, who are coming off a blowout win against the Kansas Jayhawks. 

The all-time series dates back to over 90 years ago when the two teams played a home-and-home series in 1928 and 1929.  West Virginia and Oklahoma State have played each other 10 more times since then, and the all-time series count is 8-4 in favor of the Cowboys.  Oklahoma State has won six in a row against WVU, so the Mountaineers are in dire need of a win against the Cowboys.  Let’s look back at some of the best games from this series. 

1987 John Hancock Sun Bowl (El Paso, TX) 

In honor of WVU great Major Harris getting his No. 9 retired this Saturday, it’s only fitting to go a little further back and recount a great game with a Harris-led team.  In 1987, WVU was young but talented, as they were led on offense by true freshman quarterback Major Harris and had a deep running back room that consisted of sophomore Eugene Napoleon, Undra Johnson, and Pitt transfer A.B. Brown. 

The Mountaineers faced a tough schedule that comprised of road games at No. 5 Ohio State, No. 18 Penn State, and No. 6 Syracuse.  The Mountaineers hung with every one of those teams and finished the regular season 6-5, which earned them a spot in the John Hancock Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. 

On the other side, Oklahoma State was coming off a 9-2 season, with their only losses coming to No. 2 Nebraska and at No. 1 Oklahoma.  The Cowboys were led by two star running backs and future NFL greats Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders.  Thomas was the main back, while the sophomore Sanders saw backup snaps and ran kickoff return.  Oklahoma State’s quarterback was none other than Mike Gundy, who has been the Cowboys’ head coach for 17 years now. 

The Sun Bowl was nationally televised on CBS with Brent Musburger and Pat Haden calling the action.  With the game being on Christmas Day, the weather was not as the bowl game title alludes to.  The ballgame was in the thirties the whole game with a rough wind chill and snow flurries throughout. 

In the first quarter of the game, OSU found the end zone early when Mike Gundy connected with star receiver Hart Lee Dykes on a flea flicker play.  This play set up a five-yard touchdown run by Thurman Thomas.  The Mountaineers answered with a long drive that led to a one-yard touchdown by A.B. Brown.  Later in the quarter, Thurman Thomas found the end zone again with a nine-yard touchdown run.  The Cowboys led 14-7 after one. 

West Virginia dominated the second quarter, as the Mountaineer defense kept the Cowboys off the scoreboard for the quarter.  WVU tied the game at 14-14 when A.B. Brown ran for another touchdown, this time from five yards out on a toss play.  The Mountaineers took the lead when kicker Charlie Baumann made a 33-yard field goal with the wind at his back.  WVU struck again when Cowboys’ quarterback Mike Gundy was intercepted by defensive lineman Darnell Warren.  Warren took the interception back from around the 20-yard line and ran it in for the touchdown.  WVU led 24-14 at the half. 

To begin the second half, Oklahoma State gave the ball to Thurman Thomas six straight times, and Thomas scored a touchdown from about five yards out.  Leading 24-21, WVU kicker Charlie Baumann made another big kick, this time from 38-yards out against the wind.  Down by six, Oklahoma State took the lead back late in the third when Mike Gundy threw for his only touchdown of the game to J.R. Dillard.  The Cowboys led 28-27 going into the fourth quarter. 

With 5:13 left in the ballgame, Thurman Thomas scored his fourth touchdown of the game from four yards out to extend the Cowboy lead to 35-27.  With potentially one more drive left, the Mountaineers needed a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game.  Major Harris led the offense down the field.  With just over two minutes remaining, Major Harris ran for a first down on a crucial fourth down play.  WVU scored when fullback Craig Taylor scored on a six-yard touchdown run.   

The game came down to WVU’s two-point conversion play.  Major Harris took the snap and was forced out of the pocket.  Harris somehow escaped three defenders and completed the pass to Keith Winn, but Oklahoma State’s defense stopped Winn at the one-yard line.  Oklahoma State held on for the 35-33 victory. 

Thurman Thomas rushed for 157 yards with four touchdowns in the game for Oklahoma State.  A.B. Brown ran for 167 yards and two touchdowns for the Mountaineers, while Major Harris ran for 103 yards of his own. 

The 1987 season and this game in particular was a precursor to West Virginia’s 1988 undefeated season.  After the Sun Bowl, Major Harris emerged as one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, as he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1988 and third in 1989.  Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders went on to win the 1988 Heisman Trophy after Thurman Thomas graduated. 

WVU quarterback Major Harris scrambling for room to run against Oklahoma State in 1987 John Hancock Sun Bowl. 

2013 (Morgantown, WV) 

In the 2013 gold rush game at Mountaineer Field, WVU was coming in at 2-2 after a blowout loss to Maryland on a neutral site.  The Mountaineers decided to give Florida State transfer Clint Trickett his first start after the bad quarterback play against Maryland.  Oklahoma State was coming in at 3-0 and No. 11 in the country with hopes of winning the Big 12 Conference. 

To start the scoring in the first quarter, Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh found Josh Stewart on a tunnel screen pass and Stewart took it the distance for a 73-yard touchdown.  WVU got back into the game with a big play of their own from the defense.  Cornerback Ishmael Banks intercepted a J.W. Walsh pass and was able to weave through multiple Cowboys to score a touchdown on a 58-yard return.  Late in the quarter, quarterback Clint Trickett found future 1st round talent Kevin White in the end zone for the 17-yard touchdown.  WVU led 14-7 after one quarter. 

Early in the second, WVU kicker Josh Lambert made a 45-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-7.  The Cowboys would answer with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Tracy Moore to cut the Mountaineer lead to 17-14.  With under three minutes to play before halftime, WVU running back Charles Sims ran in a touchdown from a yard out to extend the lead to 24-14.  WVU held that lead into halftime. 

In the third quarter, the only points came from a J.W Walsh touchdown pass to Jeremy Seaton from 30-yards out.  WVU kept a 24-21 going into the fourth quarter. 

With about 11 minutes left to play, Oklahoma State had a 1st and goal from the four-yard line.  The Cowboys got to the one-yard line and it looked like they were going to score when WVU safety Darwin Cook made a huge tackle at the one-yard line.  WVU’s defense shut down the next two Oklahoma State plays and forced a short field goal.  Cowboys’ kicker Ben Grogan lined up for a 23-yard field goal to tie the game, and the kick hit the upright and missed.  Mountaineer Field erupted, and this goal line stand was a big momentum shift for West Virginia. 

With just under four minutes left, WVU kicker Josh Lambert made a 27-yard field goal to make it a 27-21 game.  The Cowboys offense got the ball with a chance to take a late lead, but J.W. Walsh’s pass was intercepted by Darwin Cook.  The interception led to another Josh Lambert field goal, and the 34-yarder sealed the WVU victory.  The Mountaineers pulled off the 30-21 upset victory for their first win against Oklahoma State since joining the Big 12. 

2015 (Morgantown, WV) 

In 2015, WVU came into the Oklahoma State game with a 3-1 record.  Oklahoma State came in with a 5-0 record and was No. 21 in the country.  It was a night game in Morgantown, and WVU fans striped the stadium, setting up a great college football environment. 

In the first quarter, the only scoring came off a disastrous play from the WVU offense.  After a miscommunication between Skyler Howard and running back Wendell Smallwood, the handoff was fumbled into WVU’s end zone.  Oklahoma State star defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah recovered the fumble in the end zone for the Oklahoma State touchdown.  The Cowboys led 7-0 after one. 

Early in the second quarter, Oklahoma State extended their lead to 14-0 when Rennie Childs ran in a touchdown from a yard out.  WVU got on the board when defensive lineman Kyle Rose sacked Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph in the end zone for a safety.  Before halftime, Oklahoma kicker Ben Grogan made a 21-yard field goal.  The Cowboys took a 17-2 lead into halftime. 

Early on in the third quarter, WVU running back Wendell Smallwood got free and ran in a 29-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 17-9.  After the WVU score, Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh found Blake Jarwin for a four-yard touchdown.  The two-point conversion attempt was not successful, so Oklahoma State’s lead was 23-9.  After the Cowboy touchdown, WVU quarterback Skyler Howard threw a deep ball to the end zone that was hauled in by Shelton Gibson for the 48-yard touchdown.  Oklahoma State kept a 23-16 lead going into the fourth quarter. 

In the fourth, WVU kicker Josh Lambert made a 38-yard field goal to cut the lead to 23-19.  After Skyler Howard threw an interception in his own territory, the Cowboys were near the end zone, but the WVU defense held them to a field goal.  Oklahoma State kicker Ben Grogan made the 22-yard field goal to extend the lead to 26-19.  Needing a touchdown, the WVU offense moved the ball downfield, and quarterback Skyler Howard dove in for a three-yard touchdown to tie the game.  Nothing happened in the final minute of action, so the game went to overtime tied at 26-26. 

In overtime, Oklahoma State started with the first possession.  WVU’s defense forced a fourth down from the two-yard line, and head coach Mike Gundy decided to go for it.  He put in J.W. Walsh, who unlike Mason Rudolph, could hurt a team with his legs.  Walsh took the snap, and acted as a running back, barreling forward for the clutch touchdown. 

WVU needed a touchdown to keep the game alive, and they managed to get to the 11-yard line before the Cowboys forced a fourth down.  With a timeout in his back pocket, head coach Dana Holgerson decided not to use it and let the game play out.  Skyler Howard took the snap and was flushed out of the pocker, but managed to get away from the pressure and deliver a strike to the edge of the end zone.  The throw was to Daikiel Shorts, but the route was covered well, and it was a very tight window. The ball fell incomplete off the hands of Shorts, and Oklahoma State escaped Morgantown with a 33-26 overtime win. 

The Mountaineers will look to get their third straight win and snap the six-game losing streak against Oklahoma State on Saturday.  Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. from Milan Puskar Stadium.  Mountaineer great Major Harris will have his No. 9 retired during the game. 

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