The West Virginia Mountaineers improved to (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) after a 17-16 nail biting victory over the Kansas State Wildcats at Mountaineer Field today.
it was by no means easy, and sometimes downright ugly, but a win is a win especially over the wizard, Bill Snyder.
The first half was a whirlwind of emotions for Mountaineer fans, players and coaches.
What was a promising start to the game after the Mountaineers forced Kansas State to punt on their first possession, and then Skyler Howard moved the football down the field with ease, the promise turned to dread when Josh Lambert, back from a three game suspension, missed an easy 30-yard field goal attempt. After the miss, the excitement in the sold out crowd turned to silence and the Wildcats used the swing in momentum to their favor.
On WVU’s second series, Howard had Ka’Raun White open, but when the ball touched his hands, Duke Shelley popped him and the ball came out and fell into the hands of Elijah Lee for the Mountaineers first turnover.
And it didn’t take long for K-State to capitalize.
Quarterback Jesse Ertz found Byron Pringle for 15 yards. Two plays later, he hit Dominique Heath for 25 more to the 5-yard line. Unlike the Mountaineers, Snyder’s club doesn’t struggle in the red zone as Ertz snuck into the corner of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run, and the Wildcats led 7-0 with 4:41 left in the first quarter.
That was the first time this season that West Virginia has not scored first.
Things didn’t get any better either for WVU, at least at this point.
Although the offense moved the ball down the field again with relative ease as Daikiel Shorts had a 14-yard reception and Jovon Durante made a beautiful diving catch for 11 yards, the drive stalled after three consecutive Howard incompletions and a turnover on downs.
And once again, the Wildcats (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) used the quiet crowd to get right back down to the red zone. Even though they didn’t cross the pylons, they still put up three points on a Matthew McCrane 37-yard field goal for a 10-0 Kansas State lead early in the second quarter.
Both teams traded punts after that with Kansas State pinned on their own 3-yard line after a rare good special teams play by Nana Kyeremeh.
But it was K-State that got their offense going again. Dalvin Warmack got loose for a 14 yarder that dug them out of a hole. A couple plays later, Ertz was rolling towards the sideline and just heaved the ball down field which was caught by Deante Burton. Also on that play Noble Nwachukwu was called for roughing the passer which doomed the Mountaineers defensive plans on the drive. K-State again settled for a field goal and led 13-0 at halftime, the first time WVU has been shut out in the first half at home since 2005.
West Virginia got the ball first in the second half and moved it well again when Howard hit Shorts for 31 yards. Then Gary Jennings picked up 10 yards on a catch. But Jordan Willis, K-State’s All-Conference sack artist blew by Colton McKivitz to kill the drive. Fortunately, Lambert redeemed himself with a 37-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 13-3.
On the ensuing kickoff, Pringle returned it 58 yards to the WVU 42-yard line as an all too familiar feeling overtook the stadium. But the Mountaineer defense stepped up again in the red zone and forced another field goal attempt, which McCrane put through from 22 yards. After the kick, the score was 16-3.
Then Dana Holgorsen went to a big dose of Justin Crawford. Crawford rumbled for 10 yards. Three plays later he went for 16 more. Then on a critical fourth down, Howard found Durante for 13 yards and a first-and-goal. Then Rushel Shell checked in and fumbled at the 3-yard line as K-State’s Kendall Adams jumped on it for the turnover.
Xavier Preston helped Nwachukwu record a sack on the Wildcats next possession and forced a punt.
That’s when Gibson made a sportscenter highlight worthy catch when he hauled in a 52 yarder as his helmet got ripped off in the process. That finally got the Mountaineers going. White caught a laser across the middle for six yards on a critical fourth-and-five that eventually set up Crawford’s 1-yard TD run, and West Virginia finally hit double digits and trailed just 16-10 with 13:41 remaining in the game. The drive went eight plays and 73 yards.
Rasul Douglas picked off Ertz on the ensuing drive, but a quick three-and-out gave the ball back to KSU after the Mountaineers failed to take advantage of a crowd ready to jump out of the stadium.
But no worries because two drives later it was the Crawford and White show.
The former went for 24 yards early in the drive. The latter then had a 13-catch. Then White had a 9-yard grab on third down. On the final play, Howard got forced out of the pocket, but was able to find Durante running along the back of the end zone for an 11-yard TD catch and WVU took a 17-16 lead with 6:11 left in the contest.
Fast forward to under three minutes left with KSU driving after a kick return out near midfield and a huge third down conversion, the Mountaineer defense settled down and forced the near automatic McCrane into a 42-yard field goal attempt. McCrane put his foot into it and hooked it left sending the stands into frenzy mode. WVU took three knees, the Wildcats had no timeouts (which is another story in itself) and got the Kansas State monkey off their back with their first win over KSU in five tries.
Crawford ran for 104 yards and a score on 18 carries. Gibson had three catches for 104 yards, and Howard was 24-for-41 for 298 yards and a touchdown plus an interception.