MORGANTOWN, W.Va — Within the first 3:09 Saturday, West Virginia trailed No. 15 Kansas State 14-0.
The Mountaineers could never catch up from their slow start, losing 48-31, and officially being eliminated from bowl eligibility.
“Credit Kansas State, they made more plays.” West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said. “They’re probably going to play in the Big 12 title game and I thought they showed why they’re going to be there.”
On Kansas State’s first drive of the game, quarterback Will Howard needed just 2:00 to drive 69 yards. Howard found Sammy Wheeler for a gain of 33 yards, before Deuce Vaughn scored on a 15-yard touchdown rush.
On the ensuing Mountaineer possession, quarterback Garrett Greene, who was making his first-career start, threw an interception on just the third offensive play of the game for West Virginia. Kansas State’s Cincere Mason would return the interception 37 yards, putting Kansas State in front 14-0.
“I can’t make those mistakes at critical times in order for us to be a good team,” Greene said.
Greene and the West Virginia offense would respond, as Greene found Sam James on a 26-yard score, putting the Mountaineers down by one score.
West Virginia’s defense would then put the Mountaineers back in the game, with Malachi Ruffin intercepting Howard’s pass and returning it 43 yards yards for the score. On the extra-point attempt though, kicker Casey Legg would miss the extra point, after the Mountaineers were backed up on a delay of game penalty.
“Really weird game in the first half,” Brown said. “Some things you just don’t see. I thought we hung around.”
On Kansas State’s next drive, the Wildcats’ DJ Giddens ran for a 49-yard touchdown, as Kansas State led 21-13.
West Virginia would have a fourth-and-one, on their own 34 yard line. Greene would get lined up to sneak the ball, but the referee would step in front of him and delay Greene. Then, Greene would snap the ball, but would be stopped by the Kansas State defense. Four plays later, Howard would be successful in his quarterback sneak, rushing it in for a 1-yard score.
“That fourth down, we didn’t sub, the ball was handed to the official,” Brown said. “All I know is if they let us snap the ball we get [the fourth down].”
Trailing 28-13, West Virginia would cut the score to a one possession game again, with Greene finding Sam James for a 71-yard touchdown pass. Legg would miss his second extra-point attempt of the afternoon, pushihg it wide left, and making it a two-score game, trailing 28-19.
“Special teams has been a strength of ours all year — really hurt us today,” Brown said.
From that point on, West Virginia would never be able to fully get back into the game.
Kansas State would add another touchdown with Howard finding Ben Sinnott for a 15-yard score, on 3rd-and-14.
West Virginia would attempt to make it a one-score game again, with Greene finding James for a 5-yard score, but the Mountaineers would not be able to convert on the two-point conversion, trailing 35-25, with 6:55 to play in the second quarter.
All three catches for James would come in the first half, turning them into 102 total yards and three touchdowns. James eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the first time since 2019.
Kansas State’s defense would step up, late in the second half. Ty Zentner would make a 46-yard field goal with 1:46 to play. The Mountaineers would hope to score, but would give the ball back to Kansas State three plays later. Zentner would then make a 53-yard field goal, giving Kansas State a 41-25 lead going into halftime.
“I was really disappointed in our drive offensively to end the first half,” Brown said.
In the second half, West Virginia’s first drive looked promising. The Mountaineers had the ball inside the Kansas State 15 yard line, but were forced to settle for a field goal attempt. Legg would come on, and miss a 46-yard attempting, keeping the deficit at 16 for West Virginia.
“We came out, we take out nine minutes off the clock and we don’t get any points,” Brown said. “I think we had first and ten around the 15. We ran a screen play and I thought our guy was clearly held.”
The Mountaineers had one final chance to get back into the game, but would again fail. West Virginia forced a turnover on downs, but on the Mountaineers’ first play, Greene threw his second interception of the afternoon. Three plays later, Howard threw a 43-yard touchdown to Malik Knowles, putting the game firmly out of reach.
“We felt like we could come out in the second half and either tie the game up or take the lead,” James said.
Howard would pass for 294 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, while also rushing for six yards and a touchdown. Kansas State’s rushing attack would rush for a combined 143 yards and three touchdowns on the afternoon.
Greene would end up passing for 204 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. He also ran for 17 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought Garrett did some good things,” Brown said. “Made some good decisions, made some bad decisions, which is going to happen when you’re in your first career start.”
Photo by Aaron Parker, Blue Gold Sports