GLENDALE, Ariz. - Pat White guided West Virginia to a stunningly easy romp over No. 3 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Then, the option quarterback made his biggest pitch of the night.
White ran for 150 yards and threw for 176 and two touchdowns in a 48-28 victory. After it was over, he endorsed Mountaineers interim coach Bill Stewart to become the permanent successor to Rich Rodriguez, who bolted for Michigan last month.
“He deserves it,” White said. “A great man. A great coach. All the players respect him and all the players love him. You couldn’t ask for a better man to lead us to victory today.”
An emotional Stewart wouldn’t lobby for the job. But he relished what he called “a colossal win for our program.
“I never had a Gatorade bath,” said Stewart, a native West Virginian who has been an assistant for most of his career. “It was special.”
The 11th-ranked Mountaineers didn’t need Rodriguez. They had White, a relentless defense and a rushing attack that raced for 349 yards, most allowed by Oklahoma in a bowl game.
Since arriving in the desert last week, the Mountaineers (11-2) said they had bonded behind Stewart, who took over when Rodriguez left for Michigan in mid-December. And they vowed to rebound from a 13-9 loss to Pitt that knocked them out of the Bowl Championship Series title game.
The Mountaineers were right on both counts, turning in an emotional effort and overcoming the loss of star tailback Steve Slaton to a first-quarter leg injury. Noel Devine replaced Slaton and ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns — a 17-yarder and a 65-yarder that clinched the game in the fourth quarter.
The Mountaineers became the first of six teams to win under an interim coach this bowl season. They improved to 2-0 in the Bowl Championship Series.
“It’s a great night to be a Mountaineer,” Stewart said as he accepted the Fiesta Bowl trophy while thousands of West Virginia fans celebrated in the grandstand.
Stewart said his players “never, ever quit believing.”
Oklahoma (11-3) endured another disappointment on the same field where the Sooners lost a classic Fiesta Bowl to Boise State one year ago. The Sooners have dropped four straight BCS games.
“It’s not very positive,” said coach Bob Stoops, who led OU to the 2000 national title. “You get to this position, you’re obviously doing a lot of things positive and good. But you need to finish out and play well in these games.”
The Sooners had no answer for White, whose 79-yard touchdown pass to Tito Gonzales in the fourth quarter was the longest in Mountaineers bowl history.
Meanwhile, West Virginia’s fourth-rated defense limited the potent Sooners to well below their scoring average of 43.4 points per game, third in the nation.
“That was very impressive,” Stewart said. “Our guys fought hard.”
The Mountaineers harassed Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, sacking the nation’s top-rated passer three times and intercepting him in the end zone. Bradford completed 21 of 33 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
“I just wasn’t myself,” Bradford said. “I wasn’t going through the reads. I was forcing things.”
The Sooners rallied from an 18-point deficit against Boise State last January, taking a late lead before the Broncos forced overtime, where they won on a trick play.
Then Stoops made two curious calls. First, he decided to go for two points. But Bradford’s pass fell incomplete.
Then Stoops ordered an onside kick. The ball didn’t go 10 yards, and West Virginia took over on OU’s 39.
The Mountaineers needed six plays to capitalize, scoring on Devine’s 17-yard run.
West Virginia made it 34-15 on Darius Reynaud’s 30-yard run with 20 seconds to go in the third quarter. The Mountaineers went 75 yards in three plays — 42 on an electrifying run by White, who weaved through tacklers along the left sideline.
After the Sooners scored on a 19-yard pass from Bradford to Quentin Chaney, White found Gonzales down the middle for a 79-yard TD that made it 41-21.
“People doubt us all the time,” White said. “But we work hard, and we did the job.”
The rest of the game was garbage time, with numerous personal fouls. Oklahoma was flagged 13 times for 113 yards, and the Mountaineers eight times for 110.
At halftime Oklahoma had as many penalties (six) as first downs.
Asked about OU’s penalties, Stoops replied, “Embarrassing. Absolutely no discipline whatsoever. That has to be a reflection on me. I’m obviously not doing a good enough job of getting our players to play smart.”
The Mountaineers also had discipline problems. But on this night, nothing could stop them — not the Sooners or the officials.
“Oklahoma’s a great team,” White said. “I think we were just a little bit hungrier than they were.”
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