MORGANTOWN -- Cincinnati was in a timeout on one side of the field with three seconds left in regulation Saturday. West Virginia football Coach Dana Holgorsen was in thought on the opposite side of the field.
Holgorsen knew a 31-yard field goal by the Bearcats would force overtime before a crowd of 48,152 at Paul Brown Stadium. He knew the kicker, Tony Miliano, won a national award for making all four of his field goal attempts a week before inside tricky Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Holgorsen was talking to his coaches on the field and on his headset, figuring out what the Mountaineers would do once overtime started. If they won the toss, they'd play defense. If the Bearcats won, WVU could go toward one end zone that had most of the WVU fans who would conspire against then-No. 23 Cincinnati. But that meant going into the wind, which made everyone consider going the other way and into the Bearcats student section.
Then came the matter of what the Mountaineers would do when they had the ball.
"We had the discussion." Holgorsen said. "I can't tell you, but we had the discussion. Call plays that work."
It never got that far, because the play that worked the best was the one that saw safety Eain Smith block Miliano's kick and preserve a 24-21 victory.
"The crazy thing is all week - and this is one of those things you guys might not see or other people not inside the program don't see - we worked on that field goal block," said defensive lineman Julian Miller, who recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in what had been the game's key play up until the game's final play.
"One thing we noticed early in the week was that right side was the weaker side. On that field goal, it was a perfect opportunity for us to go ahead and take advantage of it."
WVU hadn't blocked a field goal since safety Mike Lorello did it at home against Syracuse in 2004. Smith was pretty sure that streak was coming to an end when he lined up for the kick.
"Honestly, I was thinking, 'I don't want to go to overtime,'" said Smith, who normally starts at strong safety, but moved to free safety Saturday because the starter there, Terence Garvin, was out with a head injury.
"I wanted to leave. All I was thinking was, 'Shoot the gap, get the block, get out of here.'"
In the season's strangest irony, it was the special teams, which have given the Mountaineers all sorts of problems this season, and did so again against the Bearcats, that saved a game WVU could have just as easily lost.
The Mountaineers committed 14 penalties for 95 yards. They ran for just 32 yards on as many carries and quarterback Geno Smith was sacked five times. Freshman running back Dustin Garrison lost a fumble in the third quarter in Cincinnati territory. The offense missed on 11 of 16 third downs.