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Mountaineers’ No. 1 gets better of Maryland’s No. 1

September 23, 2012
By JIM ELLIOTT - Staff Writer ( , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

MORGANTOWN - Prior to Saturday's showdown, the good bet to pull the crowd from its seats - other than a predicted rain storm in the fourth quarter - was the game within the game featuring West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Maryland's Stefon Diggs, a pair of similar-style burners who grew up an hour from each other on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Rarely do the favorites come in ahead by such a large margin like they did after the Mountaineers' 31-21 victory, WVU's seventh straight in this border series.

They were both highly recruited out of Maryland despite being a bit undersized, both wore No. 1, and they were the most explosive players on their respective teams.

At the end of the day, Austin got the better of Diggs in a box score in which WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said he'd never seen so many similarities in all of his years of coaching.

Austin caught 13 passes for 179 yards, blowing past Jock Sanders to become the school's all-time receptions leader, and he hauled in three touchdown passes. Austin also had three punt returns for 17 yards and one kickoff return for 20, finishing with 225 all-purpose yards.

Diggs had three catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns, four punt returns for 17 yards, and three kickoff returns for 63 yards, finishing with 201 in total.

Of the matchup, Austin said: "I had kept it to myself. They told me he was a freshman. I'd never heard of him since I've been here. I went to him at the end of the game and told him he was a good player, but I couldn't let a young boy outshine me, so I definitely had to pick it up"

These guys have such similar games, Saturday's contest had to feel like a Wednesday practice for the opposing defenses.

Priority No. 1 was to stop No. 1.

"Diggs is a tremendous athlete," WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "I don't know if we'll face anybody better in the Big 12. The guy's got a chance to be really special. Whether it was in the kicking game or whether it was on offense or as a receiver when he catches the ball, he's a special kid."

It wasn't just that Diggs and Austin made big plays, it was that they made them at key times.

Diggs' first touchdown came after his team trailed 14-0 in the first quarter, when he hauled in a 42-yard pass from quarterback Perry Hills. He added a 56-yard scoring reception late in the fourth quarter that gave the Terps a ray of hope.

Austin scored two touchdowns of 24 and 34 yards that helped lift West Virginia from a slim 17-14 edge to a seemingly insurmountable 31-14 advantage.

"This was Tavon's best game," Holgorsen said. "He played fast and his energy was tremendous. He stepped up and played well in adversity."

In the game, Austin matched a school record set last week by teammate Stedman Bailey with his 13 catches, he tied Chris Henry at No. 2 all-time in career touchdown receptions with 22 (passing Bailey at 21), and moved up to second place on the all-time yardage receiving charts at 2,469. He passed both Shawn Foreman and Khori Ivy in that listing Saturday.

He also tied Bailey and David Saunders for most career 100-yard games in program history (nine) and now shows 208 catches for his career. Sanders finished with 206 in 2010.

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