Nov. 17, 2007
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CINCINNATI (AP) -Pat White ran another team out of the Big East race, leaving No. 5 West Virginia with a chance to claim a championship at home.
The dashing, dual-threat quarterback ran for a pair of second-quarter touchdowns Saturday night, leading the Mountaineers to a 28-23 victory over No. 21 Cincinnati that reduced the conference title chase to two teams.
The Mountaineers (9-1, 4-1) can win their second Big East championship in three years by closing with victories over No. 25 Connecticut and Pittsburgh. Their game against UConn (9-2, 5-1) in Morgantown, W.Va., next weekend will likely decide it.
Losses by No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Oklahoma could also boost them in the next poll, something that's a secondary concern for now.
"That's the only goal we talk about much - capturing the Big East championship," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Now we're to the point that we can say this game is for the Big East championship. It is."
For most of the season, Cincinnati (8-3, 3-3) was one of the conference's biggest surprises, staying in contention with a hard-hitting defense that leads the country in forcing turnovers. The Bearcats couldn't do much except admire White's handiwork.
The junior quarterback ran a career-high 27 times for 155 yards and threw for 140 more, staying one step ahead of the Bearcats defense. Steve Slaton also ran for 103 yards and a 1-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
"A game like this shows that we are close to these teams," Cincinnati safety Haruki Nakamura said. "It can be frustrating chasing Patrick White, but you have to stay focused. White is a great talent. He makes plays."
They've seen this before.
White and Slaton have had their way during three consecutive victories over Cincinnati. West Virginia improved to 14-1-1 all-time against the Bearcats.
White became the first Big East quarterback to run for 3,000 yards in a career. When he wasn't tucking the ball and taking off, White was 13-of-19 for 140 yards. He also threw one tipped interception and had a pair of late fumbles that kept it close.
Next up: A chance to win a title at home.
"It means a lot," White said. "We have home field advantage on our side going into it."
The second fumble set up Bradley Glatthaar's 1-yard touchdown run that cut it to 28-23 with 2:26 left (the two-point conversion attempt failed). West Virginia recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
Cincinnati's no-huddle offense became one-dimensional against the conference's top defense. The only thing that worked consistently for the Bearcats was Ben Mauk to Marcus Barnett.
Mauk rolled to his right and found Barnett behind the defense for a 70-yard touchdown pass that tied it at 7 in the first quarter. He also had a 13-yard touchdown pass to Barnett midway through the fourth quarter.
Mauk was 19-of-34 for 323 yards, not enough to offset White's impact. He also lost a pair of fumbles. Barnett had 10 catches for 210 yards, the fourth-highest total in Cincinnati history.
"We have a lot of good wide receivers and I haven't thrown to Marcus a lot lately," Mauk said. "I think they were concerned about our other receivers."
Last week, White ran 50 yards for a touchdown with 1:36 left for a 38-31 victory over Louisville that kept the Mountaineers in the conference title chase.
Against Cincinnati, White made his mark on West Virginia's last two drives of the half, carrying 11 times for 60 yards and completing five throws for 68 more. He scored from 7 and 4 yards, putting the Mountaineers up 21-10 at halftime.
White's 295 all-purpose yards were the sixth-highest total of his career.
"I think he played like the Big East offensive player of the year - minus the fumbles," Rodriguez said.
The Mountaineers have been leaning more heavily on White to run in the last three games. He's had 22, 24 and 27 carries, by far the heaviest three-game total of his career.
"I feel pretty good," White said. "I try to get down more than I used to. I'm not taking as many hits as I used to."