5 for 10s is a four-part series reflecting on the most memorable West Virginia athletics players, games, news and events of the concluding decade of the 2010s.
Third of four parts: In this installment, we rank the Top 5 most painful West Virginia losses of the decade. These are the losses that, for various reasons, hurt the most.
5. No. 17 Oklahoma 50, West Virginia 49 (Football, Morgantown, November 17, 2012)
West Virginia brought a two-game winning streak over Oklahoma into this contest. The Mountaineers routed Oklahoma, 48-28, in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl and beat the Sooners, 41-27, in the 1982 season opener in Norman, Okla.
The Sooners got their revenge in the teams first meeting as Big 12 Conference foes.
In a game that typified the Big 12 Conference overall and the Mountaineers in particular, the contest was filled with scoring and seriously devoid of defense. Oklahoma led, 31-17, at halftime. The Mountaineers spent most of the second half playing catch up, twice rallying from double-digit deficits.
With 2:53 left to play, WVU quarterback Geno Smith hit receiver Stedman Bailey for a 40-yard touchdown pass to give West Virginia a 49-44 lead.
Unfortunately, that left just enough time for Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones and the Sooners. Oklahoma marched down the field and inside the Mountaineers 10. WVU’s defense had an opportunity for a game-winning stand under the shadow of its own goalpost. It was a stand that did not come.
Jones hit receiver Kenny Stills with a 5-yard strike with just 24 seconds on the clock, giving Oklahoma the touchdown and a one-point victory that silenced a ruckus night-game crowd at Mountaineer Field.
The defeat overshadowed an incredible, record-breaking performance from WVU receiver/running back Tavon Austin. Austin ran for a team-record 344 yards on just 21 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Bailey also had a monster night in the loss with 13 catches for 205 yards and four touchdowns.
Smith finished with 320 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. But the senior was uncharacteristically out shined by his counterpart. Jones finished with 554 yards and six touchdowns.
4. Stephen F. Austin 70, West Virginia 56 (Basketball, NCAA Tournament, East Region, First Round, New York, March 18, 2016)
West Virginia was riding high coming into the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers, on the heels of their Big 12 Tournament runner-up finish, were the No. 3 seed in the East Region. It was the Mountaineers second-highest seeding ever, only behind their No. 2 seeding in the 2010 tourney.
For the opening round of the tournament, the Mountaineers would play in Brooklyn, N.Y., an area of the country they were familiar from their Big East days. WVU’s first opponent was 14th seed Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks had the nation’s longest winning streak (20), but the Mountaineers were expected to quickly put that to rest.
They did not.
The Lumberjacks didn’t just upset the heavily favored Mountaineers, they dominated WVU. SFU’s bearded wonder Thomas Walkup looked like he could be the mascot for either school. But he played like he was the best player for either.
WVU searched but never found an answer for Walkup, who dominated the contest. Walkup was a one-man wrecking crew, leading SFU in scoring, rebounds and assists. He finished with 33 points, including hitting 19-of-20 free throws.
The loss was the biggest upset defeat in WVU’s NCAA Tournament history.
3. Texas A&M 11, West Virginia 10 (Baseball, Morgantown, NCAA Regional, elimination game, June 2, 2019)
The 5 for 10s are made up almost exclusively of revenue sports (football and men’s basketball) items. The reason is those are the sports that, overwhelmingly, garner the most interest (and, hence, “revenue”) of fans. For something outside of the big two sports to get a spot on the list, it must be extraordinary. The 2019 NCAA Morgantown Regional elimination game more than qualifies.
The Mountaineers baseball team had its best season in school history in 2019, culminating with the Mountaineers hosting a regional. In an elimination game of the regional, WVU faced Texas A&M. The Mountaineers went up, 9-1, after scoring a pair of runs in the top of the seventh inning. At that point, WVU had a win probability of 99.73 percent.
The Aggies made a big rally in the bottom of the seventh, scoring six runs, led by Logan Foster’s grand slam. That cut the WVU lead to 9-7.
The Mountaineers got an insurance run in the eighth, extending lead to 10-7. They needed full coverage.
WVU blanked A&M in the eighth and took the three-run lead into the bottom of the ninth. WVU pitcher Sam Kessler loaded the bases but had the Aggies down to their final strike with a 3-2 count to A&M second baseman Bryce Blaum.
Blaum drove the full-count delivery from Kessler over the left-field fence, capping a heartbreaking collapse that ended the Mountaineers season in an 11-10 loss.
2. Gonzaga 61, West Virginia 58 (Basketball, NCAA Tournament, West Regional, Sweet 16, San Jose, Calif., March 23, 2017)
The fourth-seeded Mountaineers and top-seed Gonzaga went toe-to-toe in a battle in the NCAA Tournament West Regional semifinals that featured a pair of defensive stalwarts.
In a game where points were at a premium, the difference was a 3-point shot that went in – and a pair that did not.
With the scored tied and less than a minute left, Gonzaga’s Jordan Mathews took an outlet pass to the left wing, pulled up and drained an open 3-point shot, giving the Zags a three-point lead.
The Mountaineers had multiple chances to send the game to overtime, but Jevon Carter twice missed on game-tying 3-point shots. WVU got the rebound after the second Carter miss, but West Virginia unable to get up a third potential game-tying effort, and the Mountaineers season and upset hopes ended.
What made the loss so disheartening was the path the laid out for this game’s winner. Second seeded Arizona was upset by No. 11 seed Xavier in the region’s other semifinal. Gonzaga destroyed Xavier, 83-59, to advance to the Final Four.
In the Final Four, the Zags faced a seven seed, South Carolina, beating the Gamecocks, 77-73, to advance to the championship game. Gonzaga lost to North Carolina in the title contest.
The Zags romp to the finals had WVU fans wondering what might have been.
1. No. 6 Oklahoma 59, No. 13 West Virginia 56 (Football, Morgantown, November 23, 2018)
The 2018 WVU football season opened with as much optimism as any since the Mountaineers inaugural Big 12 campaign in 2012.
Fans had hopes for the Mountaineers not only competing but winning their first Big 12 title and even earning a spot the College Football Playoff. A pair of conference losses (at Iowa State and at Oklahoma State) put the kybosh on any playoff hopes, but the Mountaineers were still alive for a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game. A home win over Oklahoma in the regular season finale and the Mountaineers would be playing in Dallas.
Like the No. 5 game on this list, the 2018 edition of WVU-OU in Morgantown was a Big 12-typical shootout.
The game see-sawed back and forth all night as neither defense was equipped to stop the opposing offense.
OU led, 35-28, at the half. The Mountaineers tied the game at 35 early in the third quarter. The teams traded score for score. Will Grier’s 75-yard scoring strike to Gary Jennings late in the third quarter gave the Mountaineers a 49-45 lead heading into the final stanza.
But the Sooners, as they so often have against the Mountaineers, had an answer. Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray hit Grant Calcasterra with a 2-yard pass to put the Sooners ahead, 52-49, early in the fourth quarter.
The Mountaineers were poised to strike back – again – when a rarely called penalty changed the game.
Grier connected on a pass to running back Kennedy McCoy and McCoy ran down the sideline for a first down inside the Sooners 5. The Mountaineers appeared set up perfectly for another go-ahead score in this back-and-forth shootout. But they were not.
WVU receiver T.J. Simmons blocked an Oklahoma defender on the play. Simmons completely took him out of the play. Unfortunately, Simmons continued to shove his man past the sidelines and into the bench area. The official saw this and flagged Simmons for unnecessary roughness, negating the gain and setting the Mountaineers back near midfield.
A few plays later the Sooners defense finally made a play – and it was enough to bury the Mountaineers. Grier was sacked and fumbled the ball. Oklahoma’s Curtis Bolton recovered and returned it 48 yards for the score, extending the Sooners lead to 59-49.
A Martell Pettaway 17-yard run with 4:20 left cut the WVU deficit to 59-56. However, the Mountaineers were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick and once again Oklahoma prevailed and the WVU Big 12 title hopes faded into the night.
Murray threw for 364 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 114 more and a rushing touchdown. Kennedy Brooks had 182 yards on 21 carries for OU.
Grier had a career night in the loss, throwing for 539 yards and four touchdowns. It would be Grier’s final game as a Mountaineer as he decided to skip the Camping World Bowl to focus on the NFL Draft. Jennings also had a huge night with 225 yards and two touchdowns on just seven catches. Jennings also didn’t play in the bowl game.
(Dis)Honorable mention: Duke 79, West Virginia 57 (NCAA Tournament, national semi finals 2010); Villanova 90,West Virginia 78 (Basketball, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, 2018); Kansas 71, West Virginia 66 (Basketball, 2018); Oklahoma State 45, West Virginia 41 (Football, 2018); Iowa State 80, West Virginia 74 (Basketball, Big 12 Tournament finals, 2017); Kansas 31, West Virginia 19 (Football, 2013)