When the 2-9 Kansas Jayhawks put the first points on the board, head coach Neal Brown’s 5-6 Mountaineer football team took it as a personal affront.
David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium set the scene for the series’ 11th meeting, and the hosts came ready to play. Jayhawk kicker David Borcila notched the first score of the game with a 46-yard field goal, and a close half of scoring was in the immediate future.
The two teams still had 11:14 to play in the first quarter after Borcila’s score, and WVU capitalized. After a fumble from senior running back Leddie Brown that was recovered by Kansas Gavin Potter, the Jayhawks picked up possession. Five plays later, KU quarterback Jalon Daniels was sacked for the first of the game, a 12-yard loss courtesy of redshirt sophomore linebacker Jared Bartlett. When WVU regained possession, the successes began.
A 14-yard reception from WVU redshirt senior quarterback Jarret Doege to junior wide receiver Winston Wright Jr. six plays later lit up the Mountaineer side of the scoreboard for the first time. Five and a half minutes remained in the opening quarter as the Mountaineers took the lead for the first time, 7-3. It was a lead the team would never surrender.
A promising Kansas drive was cut short by WVU DC Jordan Lesley’s side of the ball, who stopped the Jayhawk drive at the WVU 17-yard line. Borcila was sent out to attempt his second field goal of the night, a 35-yard kick that sailed through the uprights to close the Mountaineer lead to 7-6. Two minutes and seven seconds remained in the first quarter, but the scoring opportunities dried up.
When both teams joined the field for the second quarter, it began the sloppy play that WVU fans have become accustomed to seeing. The third play of the quarter, Doege was sacked back seven yards by KU’s defensive end Zion DeBose. When he got back up though, he found Wright Jr. for his second 14-yard touchdown of the night. The Mountaineers improved their lead to 14-6, but it wouldn’t be long before each and every earned point was questioned.
On the back of a 20-yard rush from Amauri Pesek-Hickson and a Daniels to Luke Grimm 36-yard reception, Daniels proceeded to find tight end Jared Casey for an eight-yard pass into the end zone. The one point differential was back in action with the touchdown, as Kansas only trailed 14-13 with 7:24 left in the first half.
The next drive, WVU redshirt sophomore running back Tony Mathis Jr. strung together four straight positive rushes for a combined 25 yards. Even though the WVU momentum was swinging positively, Doege notched his second sack of the night when he was tripped up 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage by linebacker Rich Miller. The WVU offense couldn’t get the momentum back, and opted instead for a Casey Legg field goal attempt; unfortunately, that momentum stall seeped into the kicker, who missed the 44-yard attempt.
There’s no need to worry for Mountaineer fans though. Sophomore nose tackle Akheem Mesidor set his eyes on Daniels and came up with a huge sack to push the Jayhawks back 11 yards and effectively give WVU back the possession.
The next set of downs awarded to West Virginia resulted in a six-play scoring drive capped with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Doege to redshirt junior wide receiver Sam James. James’ second reception of the game pumped up the WVU lead to 21-13, a lead that would stand heading into the half.
The second half kicked off with a bad start from Doege. The quarterback was intercepted by Potter, who ran the pass back the remaining 28 yards and into the WVU end zone. To add insult to injury, a successful two-point conversion from KU’s Earl Bostick Jr. tied the game at 21 with 12:36 left in the third quarter.
WVU’s next series of downs was sped across the field by almost entirely a mixture of Brown and Mathis Jr. The latter added three attempts for six yards, while Brown hit 1,000 yards rushing this season with 18 yards on four attempts, capped off with a stellar 44-yard sprint that crossed into the Kansas end zone to ratchet the score up to 28-21. Legg redeemed himself with a 38-yard field goal to add a 10-point lead and conclude the third quarter scoring.
Legg tacked on an additional field goal success with a 37-yard make to pump up the score out of the Jayhawks’ reach, 34-21. Even with Daniels rushing three yards into the West Virginia end zone to boost the score to 34-28, the Mountaineers stayed victorious for the remaining minute and a half.
WVU and head coach Neal Brown ended the season at .500 with the win, and have earned bowl eligibility with the 6-6 finish. Kansas dropped to 2-10 and added an eighth-straight series loss with the 34-28 final.
Daniels went 22-of-32 for 249 yards and a single touchdown. Pesek-Hickson earned 60 yards on 12 rushing attempts, and the Jayhawks receiving corps registered the 249 yards on 22 attempts between seven receivers, but it paled in comparison to WVU’s run game.
Along with his 1,000-yard season, Brown found 156 yards on 19 attempts. His fellow running back Mathis Jr. found 118 yards on 22 attempts. Doege went 16-for-21 for 170 yards and a trio of touchdowns. The WVU receivers put together 175 yards on 17 receptions; Ryan lead the team with five receptions for 87 yards.
Now, the Mountaineer football team will patiently wait for which bowl game they’ll earn an invite to.