MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Winston Wright Jr. each had over 100 yards as the West Virginia passing offense led the way to 38-31 upset win over Iowa State.
West Virginia (3-4) began its game against Iowa State already down tight end Mike O’Laughlin and cornerback Nicktroy Fortune, but it was honestly hard to tell. In their places: redshirt juniors T.J. Banks and Charles Woods.
No. 22 Iowa State (5-2) won the toss and deferred to the second half, but WVU’s opening drive ended in redshirt senior punter Tyler Sumpter booting the ball 41 yards. With the ball in the hands of senior quarterback Brock Purdy, the Cyclones made quick work of the Mountaineer defense. In three short plays, junior running back Breece Hall concluded the drive by rushing 70 yards and into the WVU end zone. With 11:39 remaining in the first quarter, this playmaking scheme seemed to kick West Virginia into gear.
WVU’s QB1, redshirt senior Jarret Doege had a smashing second drive, connecting with four different receivers for a mixture of long balls and short options. He found junior wide receiver Winston Wright Jr. for a 19-yard pass and redshirt senior Isaiah Esdale for eight- and five-yard completions to move the chains twice. When Doege finally decided to utilize Banks at tight end, it was like a fire was set. Banks caught an eight-yard ball down the sidelines, and combined with a 14-yard Leddie Brown rush to put the Mountaineer offense at the Cyclone 21-yard line. Banks was on it again, when the next pass ended in his hands and 17 yards down the field. Two quick Brown rushes landed the senior in the end zone to tie the score at seven with 7:05 to go in the first quarter. Now tied with one of the season’s second half “issues”, the cards were in the Mountaineers’ hands.
The next Purdy-lead drive couldn’t penetrate the Mountaineer 34-yard line, and ISU head coach Matt Campbell opted to send senior punter Andrew Mevis out to kick, a connection that sailed 48 yards. WVU head coach Neal Brown put redshirt freshman Garrett Greene in for the next set of downs, but an incomplete pass and a Brown rush later and he was pulled. Doege came back in, but couldn’t convert the third down. Sumpter’s second punt of the game went 47 yards, but disaster was about to strike.
The first play of Iowa State’s drive, Purdy found redshirt senior wide receiver Tarique Milton 68 yards downfield, the longest of Purdy’s passes this season. Milton ran the ball into the end zone in front of a stunned Milan Puskar Stadium. One play. One score. Iowa State took the lead again, 14-7 with 4:29 remaining in a back-and-forth first quarter.
The back-and-forth scoring was good for one more drive, when nine plays later, Doege’s aim found redshirt junior wide out Bryce Ford-Wheaton in double coverage in the corner of the Cyclone end zone and capitalized. It was a 20-yard loft ball, sufficient to tie the score for the second time and end the quarter.
When the second period opened, Purdy was in for a surprise. A Josh Chandler-Semedo-shaped surprise. The senior linebacker sacked Purdy, a sizable loss of 10 yards, and a great momentum boost on third down. Redshirt senior punter Corey Dunn took the field and kicked the ball 42 yards. It was quickly returned 27 yards by Esdale, and the Mountaineer drive began.
It was a drive that encapsulated eight plays and saw redshirt sophomore running back Tony Mathis Jr. come in for Brown. Mathis Jr. logged a net of 14 yards rushing on three attempts, but it only placed offensive coordinator Gerad Parker’s team on the ISU 14-yard line. Redshirt junior kicker Casey Legg came on with the field goal unit, and drilled one through the uprights to take the lead back, 17-14. That lead stuck too, until 18 seconds remained in the half.
Meanwhile, Doege threw his first interception of the game to notch the Mountaineers’ first turnover. It was snagged by redshirt freshman defensive back Craig McDonald, his first career interception, and Iowa State got the possession back. The WVU defense played a lights-out series, though, steeling the Cyclones on third down and forcing Dunn out to punt again. This third down stop put the WVU defense at only one of six Cyclone third down plays converted. Dunn’s punt sailed 43 yards, and the cycle began again. A quick four downs later, Sumpter was out to punt for the Mountaineers; his attempt flew 47 yards, and set the Cyclones up for redemption.
Six plays later, Purdy’s offense was stopped abruptly at the WVU 17-yard line. A third down Purdy incompletion set Mevis up for a 34-yard field goal, which he knocked in to tie the score for the third time, at 17. Halftime rolled seamlessly in, with a shootout of a second half on the docket.
Iowa State got possession first, but burned a full set of downs with little return. It was all forgotten, though, when one of Doege’s passes, on the next set of downs, was intercepted by Cyclone senior linebacker Jake Hummel, the second of his career. Hummel took it to the house for a 24-yard touchdown, and Iowa State secured the lead once more, 24-17 with just more than 11 minutes left in the quarter.
WVU quickly made up for the error, after a mixture of Wright Jr., Brown, and Greene brought the ball down to the Iowa State 23-yard line. Back-to-back bombs from Doege to Wright Jr. (35 yards) and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ford-Wheaton. The latter was reviewed, but ruled that Ford-Wheaton dug his toes into the back of the Iowa State end zone, locking in the game’s fourth tie.
This No. 22 Iowa State team couldn’t let the score against unranked WVU be tied, though. Four snaps later, Purdy staged a QB keep and ran the ball one yard into a wide open Mountaineer end zone. With Mevis’ extra point attempt good, the score was now 31-24 with 6:06 yet to be played. That’s the way the scoreboard would stay, as Doege’s offense penetrated the ISU 20-yard line, but the Cyclone defense was saved by the bell.
Nothing about this game had been easy or slow, and the Mountaineer reinforced that when the final 15 minutes were loaded. Down at the 20-yard line, an incomplete Doege ball faked the Cyclones into complacency, but the redshirt senior had more up his sleeve. The next snap found a 22-yard loft ball to Wright Jr. in an un-guarded Cyclone end zone to seal the game’s fifth tie, at 31. Those two plays took 11 seconds, and Iowa State regained possession with 14:49 to play in this topsy-turvy, offensive game. Purdy’s squad was once again unable to convert, even on a seven-play series. Mevis’ punt sailed 34 yards.
The next time Doege got his hands on the ball, it began a series that looked like the kind of offense the team should have been playing this entire season. Brown kicked the drive off with a 20-yard rush up and out of the WVU red zone to the 35-yard line. Doege completed a 14-yard pass to Esdale and followed it up by a beautiful, 45-yard, Hail Mary-style, moon shot down the field to Ford-Wheaton, who ended up at the ISU six-yard line. Pass interference was called on Iowa State’s sophomore defensive back T.J. Tampa, moving the sticks down the the Cyclone two-yard line. Brown rushed the remaining area to put the Mountaineers in sole possession of the lead, 38-31.
When Iowa State drove down the field, Purdy’s offense produced seven snaps that placed the ball at the WVU two-yard line. A scramble ensued on the next play, when WVU’s redshirt junior linebacker Exree Loe forced Hall to fumble at the goal line. The ball was recovered by redshirt junior safety Alonzo Addae at the goal line, and the call of a goal line fumble was under review. The refs granted it a fumble, and the entire WVU sideline celebrated like they had just won the National Championship.
Even still, Doege’s offense used six, ineffective plays to move the field position down to their own 43-yard line, but Sumpter was sent out to punt it away. His boot sailed 41 yards, and the Cyclones regained possession at their own 16-yard line.
The WVU defense wasn’t messing around, with the taste of victory on their tongues. Dante Stills joined Chandler-Semedo and logged a sack, backing Purdy up nine yards on third down, to the WVU 38-yard line. That was enough for the Mountaineers to work with. The team clogged all of the holes at just the right time, and as the seconds ticked down, they secured the upset 38-31.
The WVU offense concluded the game with 370 passing yards, 122 rushing yards, and Doege finished the game 30-46-2 for three touchdowns. Ford-Wheaton logged 106 yards on six receptions, Wright Jr. found himself at the 100-yard threshold on six receptions, and Esdale rounded out the top receivers with 61 yards on the same amount.
WVU moves back to .500 with this win over Iowa State, and will look to bring another win to Milan Puskar Stadium next week when the Oklahoma State Cowboys come to town on Nov. 6. Major Harris will also have his number retired during the game.