By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
Noel Devine’s career-high 220 rushing yards helped West Virginia overcome a sloppy start to defeat Colorado 35-24 on a nationally televised Thursday night contest at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Fort Myers, Fla., native averaged 10 yards on a season-high 22 carries with one touchdown, a 77-yard burst that put WVU on the board on its second play of the game. The long touchdown run was Devine’s second scoring run of more than 70 yards this season, eclipsing his 71-yard score in WVU’s last game against Auburn.
“The more the game went on, the more we put the ball in No. 7’s hands,” Coach Bill Stewart said. “They were blitzing and I got a little frustrated with the pass protection and wanted to give him the ball.
“As the game went on we got better running the ball and putting the ball in our playmakers’ hands.”
Devine’s 22 carries were his most since running 26 times against Colorado in 2008.
WVU’s efficient play in the second half helped offset its four turnovers in the first half, all on fumbles. The Mountaineers stymied the Buffaloes by forcing -6 rushing yards in the final two quarters, as Colorado managed just 100 yards on the ground to WVU’s 257.
Fullback Ryan Clarke aided the Mountaineer running attack with two touchdowns, including a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter that gave WVU a critical two-score lead.
Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins finished 27-of-52 with 292 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Tailback Rodney Stewart amassed 105 yards on 21 carries with a score and Scotty McKnight led all receivers with 98 yards on nine receptions and a touchdown.
WVU did not commit any turnovers in the second half, as quarterback Jarrett Brown finished 12-of-19 for 148 yards with two touchdowns. Bradley Starks led the Mountaineer receiving corps with 68 yards on 3 receptions, including a touchdown to start the second half.
“I’m very proud about the win,” Stewart added. “I’m here to tell you that we’ll win any ball game we can, 35-24. I’m happy the way our football team and our coaches came back and delivered.”
Linebacker Reed Williams led WVU with nine tackles, followed by eight apiece from Pat Lazear and Robert Sands. The defense forced a season-high three turnovers, interceptions by Sands, Sidney Glover and J.T. Thomas.
Punter Scott Kozlowski also had a productive evening, averaging 48 yards on four punts, including one punt that was downed inside the 20.
“I’m proud of the way Scott Kozlowski pinned them back all night,” Stewart added.
The Mountaineers continued their trend of outgaining their opponents this season, totaling 405 yards compared to Colorado’s 392. WVU has tallied more offensive yardage than all four of its opponents in 2009.
West Virginia started the game with Devine’s long touchdown run, as he carried up the middle and raced down the left side for the opening score on WVU’s second offensive play. The run was Devine’s second longest scoring run of his career, and his third longest from scrimmage.
Tailback Stewart of Colorado knotted up the contest when he rolled off a 36-yard run, which was upheld after official review. Stewart contributed 51 of his team’s 59 yards on the drive after CU started on its own 39.
After Brown botched a quarterback keeper that was recovered at WVU’s 34, kicker Aric Goodman could not come up with another field goal as his 45-yard attempt hit off the left post with 3:56 remaining in the first quarter.
Starks committed WVU’s second turnover with 53.6 seconds left in the first quarter when he fumbled on a wide receiver screen at Colorado’s 15 to foil a Mountaineer scoring opportunity. After Alric Arnett made a 17-yard reception on third down at Colorado’s 25, Jock Sanders committed WVU’s third turnover, including its second inside Colorado’s red zone.
Things continued to go wrong for the Mountaineers in the first half as Thomas intercepted a pass by Hawkins, only to fumble on the return to give the Buffaloes possession at their 44.
Goodman connected on his third field goal attempt, this one from 39 yards, to give Colorado a 10-7 lead. The 10-play, 32-yard drive was keyed by a fourth down reception by tight end Riar Greer, who was on the receiving end of a throw from the scrambling Hawkins to keep the possession alive at WVU’s 24.
Devine sparked the Mountaineers once again when he ran for 56 yards to the Colorado 24 to put WVU in the Buffaloes’ red zone for the third time. Sanders followed with a six-yard touchdown reception, his second of the year, to put WVU up 14-10. Glover came up with WVU’s second interception of the first half to end Colorado’s scoring opportunity.
WVU opened up the second half with a 48-yard touchdown reception by Starks, who caught a pass on the right sideline and streaked upfield for his first score of the year to put WVU ahead, 21-10.
On a critical 4th and 7 at WVU’s 29, Colorado responded when Hawkins found wideout Scotty McKnight for a touchdown to cut the Mountaineer lead to 21-17. Colorado began the drive at the WVU 43 on Brian Lockridge’s 43-yard kickoff return, and converted a key third down at WVU’s 32 to jumpstart the seven-play drive.
Sands made his second interception of the season at the WVU 47, breaking off a route by an intended receiver while staying in bounds to make the pick.
WVU had its most productive drive of the game when it capped a 14-play, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard score from Clarke, his second of the year. The possession went 6:48 as Devine took seven carries for 45 yards to give the Mountaineers a 28-17 lead with 9:17 left in the game.
Linebacker Ovid Goulbourne burst through the middle to make a momentum-changing sack for a 10-yard loss, putting the Buffaloes in a difficult 4th and 20 spot at WVU’s 40 yard line. The Buffaloes took a chance with a 57 yard field goal attempt from Goodman that went wide left to maintain WVU’s 11-point lead with 5:59 remaining.
A 13-yard run by Devine late in the fourth quarter put him at his career high of 220 yards. His previous high was 207 yards against Auburn in 2008.
“He showed character and grit,” Stewart said of Devine. “He quit the cut-back stuff and lowered his shoulder. He ran hard, straight and north and south.”
After stopping Colorado on fourth down at its own 15, WVU sealed the game when Clarke ran 8 yards up the middle. The Buffaloes closed the scoring with a 20-yard touchdown reception by Markques Simas with three seconds left.
The Mountaineers open up Big East play at rival Syracuse on Saturday, Oct. 10, at a time to be announced. The game is scheduled to air either on the Big East Network at noon or on ABC at 3:30 p.m.