Football, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: The perfect ending for an imperfect year

MORGANTOWN — It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t even very fun, but WVU ended its season with a win Saturday, toppling skidding Oklahoma State 24-19 on a rainy, dreary day in Stillwater, Okla.

Of course, the Mountaineers’ entire 2022 season could be described as not pretty, not easy and not very fun, so what else did we expect out of the season finale?

WVU has shown its warts all season and they were there again Saturday. From Malachi Ruffin giving up tackling a player halfway through a play to offensive playcalling that swung from overly predictable to highly questionable and finally Oliver Straw very nearly giving the game away on a punt that surely had many fans adverting their eyes.

Amidst those warts, however, was a whole lot of promise too. Redshirt-freshman running back Jaylen Anderson broke off two explosive touchdown runs from beyond midfield behind an offensive line that has developed to one of the Big 12’s best. True freshman signal-caller Nicco Marchiol came in for an injured Garrett Greene and gutted out just enough plays at the end of the game to produce the win. Even Ruffin, following his bone-headed mistake, was in coverage on three of the Cowboys’ final four throws that resulted in a turnover on downs and gave WVU the victory.

It would have been very easy for this group of Mountaineers, who had literally nothing to play for this week, to simply have gone out and just go through the motions against Oklahoma State. They’ve already got seven losses, their coach may very well get canned next week and it pour down rained non-stop the entire game. It would have been so very easy for the team to throw their hands up and proclaim the season was already over.

But that didn’t happen, not even close. This group of Mountaineers got on the plane, flew to Oklahoma and gave the Cowboys an absolute battle for 60 minutes, snapping their hosts’ 14-game home winning streak in the process.

“What we talked about was two things, finishing and finishing well,” head coach Neal Brown said after the win. “It says a lot about who you are, collectively, but more importantly, it says about who you are as a man.”

Playing in his program-high 59th career game, Fairmont’s own Dante Stills was still playing like a menace on each and every down and won’t even have the stats to show for it, only being credited with an assisted tackle and two quarterback hits.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Marchiol was playing in just his second game and showed a similar desire. He only completed 2-of-9 passes and ran for more yards than he threw for (32 vs. 29), but he stepped up when Greene went down and had a couple of gutty runs in the fourth quarter to set up the insurance field goal that forced the Cowboys to have to try to a touchdown late in the game.

And then there’s Ruffin, the former walk-on who’s been inserted into the starting lineup out of necessity more than anything else. He’s had an up-and-down kind of season. He got his first career interception against TCU and then got Moss’d for a touchdown on the last play of the game. He had a pick-six against Kansas State only to watch the Wildcats hit big play after big play and score on their next five drives. And then on Saturday, he stopped short of actually tackling an OCU receiver because he had already started celebrating an incompletion that didn’t happen only to bounce back and perfectly defend two deep balls on Oklahoma State’s final drive to keep them out of the endzone.

It’s more than fair to call the 2022 season a massive disappointment for the program and it’s also fair to call into question Brown’s job security. But through it all, this group of Mountaineers never gave up on the season, each other or their coach and that’s to be commended.

“I’m proud of our staff, proud of our players,” Brown said. “It hadn’t been the year we wanted, but today’s about this win and coming on the road to do it.”

Whether or not Brown will be WVU’s coach in 2023 is anyone’s guess, but before we start worrying about all that it’s okay to feel good about the win on Saturday. It’s okay to be disappointed in the way the season went and still feel good that the team won two of its last three games over opponents it hadn’t beaten in a long time. Lastly, it’s okay to be proud of the way the Mountaineers played in Stillwater on Saturday and it’s okay to be sad that the season is over.

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