WVa into Gator Bowl after beating Rutgers 24-21
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)—It took the Gator Bowl about 10 minutes to announce it had extended an invitation to No. 24 West Virginia after its 15th straight win over Rutgers.
It took the Mountaineers about 10 seconds to publicly accept.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to go down and represent the Big East,” said Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart after Noel Devine and Ryan Clarke each ran for a touchdown and JT Thomas had a game-clinching interception with 1:59 left in a 24-21 victory over Rutgers on Saturday.
It will mark West Virginia’s fourth New Year’s Day trip to Jacksonville in seven seasons, and its first since beating Georgia Tech in 2007. In a possible 2005 rematch, the Mountaineers could meet Florida State and former WVU coach Bobby Bowden in Bowden’s final game.
“The Gator Bowl has a great tradition and relationship with West Virginia University,” said Gator Bowl Selection Chairman Brian Goin, a WVU alum. “It’s just been a super year for West Virginia.”
After losing two out of three to South Florida and Cincinnati, West Virginia (9-3, 5-2) did not seem destined for a New Year’s bowl. But beating Pittsburgh last week put the Mountaineers back in the hunt.
“After some of those tough losses, we could have easily shut it down,” said strong safety Sidney Glover, whose third-quarter interception return for a touchdown opened a 21-3 lead for West Virginia. “Especially losing to teams we felt we should have beat, it’s easy to shut down. But we didn’t.”
Rutgers (8-4, 3-4) will still make its fifth straight bowl appearance and is in the mix for any of four games. But the Knights were not dwelling on that.
“I’ll just wait until (Sunday),” cornerback Devin McCourty said. “I’m sure someone will just text or call me.”
The Knights were limited to 218 yards and just 65 rushing yards in falling to 4-31-2 against West Virginia.
“I was very proud of our defense and our special teams,” Stewart said. “Our defense was phenomenal.”
Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage was 9 for 27 for 153 yards and two interceptions. Mohammed Sanu caught six passes for 105 yards.
The Knights’ defense allowed 278 yards and held Devine, the Big East’s second-leading rusher, to 65 yards, while quarterback Jarrett Brown completed 10 of 20 passes for 116 yards and rushed for 36.
West Virginia opened a 24-14 lead with 8:44 left in the final quarter on Tyler Bitancurt’s 41-yard field goal. Rutgers came back on its first play from scrimmage on Savage’s 62-yard touchdown pass to Sanu, pulling the Knights within three.
West Virginia had the ball at the Rutgers 40 after Kent Richardson blocked a punt. But the Mountaineers gave it back when Brown dropped a low snap and Alex Silvestro recovered at the Knights’ 47.
On fourth-and-6 from the 49, Savage’s pass went off the hands of Sanu, and Thomas intercepted. Faced with a third-and-6 at the Rutgers 42, Brown appeared caught for a loss but stiff-armed defensive end George Johnson and gained 12 yards to seal the game for West Virginia.
“Coach always says I’m the best guy on the field when the ball is in my hands,” Brown said. “He knew I would be one-on-one with a corner. In that case it was a defensive end, I just had to go get it.
“I did juke at first, he didn’t go for it. So I had to bring out the stiff arm. That’s the only thing I could bring out.”
After a second quarter in which both teams combined for 3 yards, each side scored third-quarter touchdowns without their offenses being on the field.
Glover returned his interception 24 yards for a score, Joe Lefeged returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards, and Savage scored on a 2-point conversion run.
San San Te added a field goal late in the quarter to pull Rutgers to 21-14.
Devine scored on a 6-yard run as West Virginia went 86 yards on five plays in the game’s opening series. Rutgers responded with Te’s 38-yard field goal.
Later in the quarter, West Virginia used another long drive to make it 14-3, as Clarke’s 1-yard run capped an 80-yard march. Clarke rushed for 58 yards.