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How West Virginia's win over Texas changes its season

AUSTIN, Texas -- Despite the magnitude of the moment, West Virginia never wavered. With their season on the line, the Mountaineers were going for the win. And even after three consecutive timeouts -- two called by Texas -- they were going to run the same two-point play.

"Hey, you want to win the game?" coach Dana Holgorsen asked quarterback Will Grier on the sidelines after slapping him on the helmet.

"Let's f---ing win the game."

The Mountaineers then went out and did just that, scoring the decisive two-point conversion with 16 seconds left to defeat the Longhorns 42-41, upend the Big 12 race and elevate themselves into the College Football Playoff conversation.

"We have so much potential as a team, and I hope we can build off of it," Grier said when asked what Saturday's dramatic, come-from-behind victory could do for West Virginia going into the final month of the regular season. "I hope it does a lot."

Since joining the Big 12 six years ago, the Mountaineers have dreamed of a victory like the one they landed in Austin, which should also land them in serious playoff discussions this week.

They've also waited for a play -- or two -- like the one Grier delivered in the closing seconds Saturday.

Until its final drive, West Virginia had been mostly outplayed by the physical Longhorns, especially in the second half, as Texas handcuffed Grier, who tweaked his ankle during the first half, limiting his mobility. When the Longhorns pulled ahead 41-34 on Sam Ehlinger's 48-yard touchdown pass to Devin Duvernay with 2:34 remaining, it appeared this West Virginia season that had begun with so much promise was headed back to the Camping World Bowl.

By that point, Holgorsen had already decided that if the Mountaineers somehow scored a touchdown, they were going for two -- and they were going to put the destiny of their season in the hands of their Heisman hopeful quarterback.

"An easy decision," Holgorsen called it. "If you put the fate of the game in No. 7's hands, I feel pretty good about it."

First, though, Grier had to put them in the end zone. And with 24 seconds to go, it seemed as if time would run out before he could get them there.

But from the 33-yard line, Grier noticed wideout Gary Jennings had beat his man down the seam, then saw Jennings sailing past the safety, too. So off his back foot, Grier lofted a pass, which cleared both defenders and hit Jennings in stride, just as he dashed through the back of the end zone for the touchdown.

"I don't think anybody else can," wide receiver David Sills V said when asked how many quarterbacks in college football could make that throw. "He can be unconventional at times, but he makes it work."

Grier made the winning play work more than once, too.

"We've had this two-point conversion in our back pocket all year," Holgorsen said of the play, which put Sills on one side, then four receivers on the other. "Got a lot of options. ... You put No. 7 in a position to where he has different options, he's going to be tough to stop."

The first option called for a slant pass to Sills, which the Mountaineers executed beautifully. Except Texas coach Tom Herman had called timeout just before the snap. Not only did the Longhorns negate the conversion, they forced West Virginia to show its play.

The Mountaineers, however, weren't changing it.

"I wasn't going to outsmart anybody," Holgorsen said. "We weren't going to call a different play."

That's because the play had other options. And after Texas flipped its best corner, Kris Boyd, on Sills, then cheated a linebacker out to take away the slant, Grier decided he was going to run it in.

"I knew that it was 3 yards and I'm gonna go get it, whatever it takes to win this ballgame," Grier said.

Sills ran a fade to take the corner out of the play. Then Grier stepped toward the pile, before bouncing to the outside, where he coasted past the pylon.

"There was a lot of adversity we had to overcome, and that's something that great teams do, especially on the road," Grier said. "This team stepped up to the challenge. ... and we found a way to win."

The Mountaineers have won big games in the Big 12 before. Yet this was easily their biggest since their first trip to Austin immediately after they joined the Big 12 in 2012. By knocking off the Longhorns that year, West Virginia climbed into the top five of the polls.

That game, however, was in early October. And in their debut season in the Big 12, the Mountaineers would quickly be exposed as a pretender, not yet built for the grind of competing week in, week out in a Power 5 league.

This game was in November. And these battled-tested Mountaineers, led by their perfectly poised quarterback, are proving they're contenders, now tied atop the Big 12 standings alongside Oklahoma, the three-time defending conference champs -- with a date against the Sooners looming in Morgantown on Black Friday.

"This gives our team some confidence," Holgorsen said. "Still a lot of football left to be played ... but we've got some momentum moving forward."

After Saturday, more so than ever before.