MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Mountaineer fans should have known something was about to go very wrong when WVU won the coin toss.
The Mountaineers (4-6) elected to maintain possession to start off the game against a Kansas State Wildcats (7-3) team, and it backfired only two plays later. After a quick Leddie Brown nine-yard rush, WVU redshirt senior QB Jarret Doege threw the first interception of the game, and a costly one at that. His first pass of the game quickly became an interception when senior defensive back Russ Yeast nabbed the ball and took off down the field. Bill Snyder Family Stadium lit up as he dramatically changed the complexity of the opening quarter.
Six plays later, that possession cost a shocked WVU roster seven points. The K-State offense got the ball down to the WVU-24, but sophomore running back Joe Ervin was about to seal the deal. He found 22 yards on 1st and 10 at the 24-yard line, driving the ball inside the WVU-2. The next play, he scampered two yards across the goal line for the game’s first score. A successful extra point from kicker Chris Tennant and the Mountaineers were in a disconcerting 7-0 deficit.
When Kansas State regained possession, it was more of the same for the WVU defense. Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson and Deuce Vaughn put together a couple of short-yardage pass and rush attempts, but the WVU defense seemed to be holding them off fairly well. Then, Vandarius Cowan happened. West Virginia’s redshirt senior BANDIT was called for targeting and simultaneously fell to the turf grasping his shoulder. The result of the play was a Thompson interception by WVU’s linebacker Exree Loe, but the call was reversed as Cowan left the field with the assistance of WVU’s athletic trainers. This play, which should have changed the Mountaineers’ momentum, only served to further exemplify costly mistakes.
Only nine plays later, the Mountaineers stumbled again. After being pushed back to their own 16-yard line, WVU sent redshirt senior punter Tyler Sumpter out to change field position. As soon as the ball hit Sumpter’s foot, KSU’s redshirt freshman wide out Ty Bowman came flying across the field, hitting the ball out of the air and sending it bouncing to the right… right into the awaiting hands of teammate defensive back Marvin Martin, who ran it back seven yards into the WVU end zone. With 3:46 left in the first quarter, Kansas State already lead 14-0 and proceeded to sack Doege for a nine-yard loss on the following drive. That 14-0 lead would stand as the opening quarter wound to a close.
Second quarter scoring was minimal, as only three field goals were attempted. WVU’s Casey Legg attempted a 47-yard field goal from the left hash, but the angle was off, and his attempt flew wide to the right: only his second miss of the season. K-State struck first on its third drive of the quarter. From 32 yards out, Tennant nailed a field goal to give the Wildcats three additional buffer points. With three minutes left in the half, KSU lead 17-0. WVU wasn’t scoreless for long though, as Legg came back out to try another score. This time, the redshirt junior nailed a 39-yard kick that added the first WVU points of the game to the board, 17-3, effectively closing the half.
When the two teams emerged from the locker rooms, K-State was quick to reassert dominance. Six plays into the second half, Thompson and the Wildcats found the WVU end zone quickly. A clutch connection between Thompson and junior tight end Sammy Wheeler produced a four-yard touchdown with 10:17 left in the quarter. The Wildcats scored on each of their half-opening drives, and showed no remorse when tacking on the revenge points.
A pair of WVU incomplete passes and the introduction of true freshman wide receiver Kaden Prather via a 16-yard catch set the Mountaineers down at the KSU13. Fellow freshman wide receiver Reese Smith got his name on the scoring stat sheet for the first time this season shortly after that, when he became a convenient end zone target for a 13-yard pass from Doege. His first score of the season cut the Wildcat lead to 24-10 with six minutes to play in the third quarter. Tennant tried a second field goal, but he added an unsuccessful attempt from 26 yards out. The third quarter concluded with a score of 24-10 in the Wildcats’ favor, but that two-score deficit was in for an additional cut.
Seven plays into the final quarter, Doege connected with junior wide receiver Winston Wright Jr. on fourth down, who ran the finishing three yards and into the Wildcat end zone. Legg made his second extra point of the game to place the Mountaineers only down seven points, 24-17, with 11:50 to play in the game.
It took four quarters, but the illusive Thompson was finally sacked. Taijh Alston got a hand on him for a loss of one yard to open up play in the final period. The sack didn’t impact Thompson as much as the WVU defensive presence would have liked. Three plays later, he threw a bullet 35 yards down the field to Wheeler, who ended up at the WVU4. Vaughn, chomping at the bit for additional short yardage plays, ended up with the ball in his hands on the next play. A four-yard rush later, and the 14-point lead was back in effect, 31-17 with 7:22 left in the game.
The Wildcats added three additional cushion points to the score off a 25-yard field goal from Tennant to pump up the lead to 34-17, a score which would prove final. Doege added one more sack for a loss of nine yards and then immediately threw an interception to senior linebacker Cody Fletcher with less than a minute to play. It was a bad look at the end of the game, and an even worse way to add the Mountaineers’ sixth loss of the season.
Doege finished his game 27-45 for 268 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Thompson’s game concluded with 14-19 for 138 yards and a single touchdown. Brown added 85 yards on 20 carries, while Vaughn tallied 121 yards on 25 rushes.
The Mountaineers will now need to win both next week’s Texas home game and in Lawrence against the Jayhawks in order to be bowl eligible. Milan Puskar Stadium will host the final game of the season on Nov. 20. Kickoff time is 12 p.m.