Mountaineers survive second half nail-biter

MORGANTOWN — Challenge made. And, challenge accepted.

Faced with its fourth loss to a Top-15 ranked team this season, West Virginia (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) found just enough offense in the first half and played a whole lot of defense in the second half to pull out a 20-16 victory over No. 15 Iowa State Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.

“I challenged them,” seventh-year head coach Dana Holgorsen stated following the game. “It started on Sunday with our coaches. I thought they could get more out of their players and they went and then challenged their players.

“Hey, we beat a good football team today. They were who we thought they were. But, I thought we played physical and I thought we played tough.”

The win sends the Old Gold and Blue to Manhattan (Kansas) next Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. showdown with Kansas State with at least a second place tie in the league’s standings and keeps its hopes alive of earning a spot in the Big 12 Championship game the first weekend in December.

“I’ve been pretty critical of our guys the last couple of weeks,” continued the head coach. “I thought we took a step forward at Baylor, but then we took two steps back against Oklahoma State. We knew running the football against them was important because of how they play defense.”

And, run the football the Mountaineers did.

Senior Justin Crawford carried the football 25 times for 102 yards (4.1 ypc) while backups Kennedy McKoy (12-60) and Martell Pettaway (5-18) kept things rolling when Crawford was on the sideline.

As a team West Virginia finished with 208 net yards on 47 carries which allowed junior quarterback Will Grier to pick and choose when he wanted to take a shot at the end zone through the air.

Grier finished 20-of-25 passing for 316 yards and two touchdowns with one interception on a questionable ‘no-call’ in the end zone when the Cyclones’ D’Andre Payne took away a sure touchdown pass from junior David Sills V, who had burnt the ISU prevent unit in the first half on a 10-yard touchdown on the game’s first offensive possession.

West Virginia’s defense, which came in ranked among the league’s worst in points surrendered (31.6 pg) and total yards allowed (460.2 ypg).

“I don’t know what you guys (the media) are going to write about this week,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson quipped. “It feels good to hold a team to 16 points. If feels real good to hold a Big 12 team to 16 points. It feels good to get a win. It also feels good to have those guys go out there and make plays.”

Perhaps the biggest coming on the Cyclones last two scoring drives.

Facing a second-and-goal at the WV1, the Mountaineers stuffed runs by Kyle Kempt and David Montgomery to force a 14-yard field goal which sliced the WVU lead to 20-13 with 2:29 to play in the third quarter.

Then facing a second-and-five at the WV 7 the hosts twice broke up potential game-tying touchdowns and forced ISU to kick a 24-yard field goal with 7:19 left in the game.

“First and foremost let me give credit to West Virginia,” said ISU head coach Matt Campbell. “What a great football game. What a great football environment. That’s a good football team. We knew it certainly would be.”

If unranked West Virginia was going to keep its slim hopes of a berth in the Big 12’s Championship game alive, its vaunted running game – which was averaging under 100 yards per game over its last three contests – needed to show some life against an Iowa State rush defense ranked fourth in the conference (126.9 ypg).

Senior Justin Crawford, who came into his next-to-last home game averaging 85.5 yards per game, got the ball early and often in the first 30 minutes of action, carrying the football 19 times for 83 yards and WVU built a 20-3 lead at the intermission.

On the Mountaineers’ first possession back-to-back Crawford runs accounted for only two yards, however a 63-yard Will Grier completion to senior Ka’Raun White, who saw his season end a year ago against the Cyclones with a broken leg, set up a 10-yard touchdown toss from Grier to junior David Sills V.

Crawford was kept twice as busy on WVU’s second possession – set up by an Al-Rasheed Benton interception at the ISU 48 – as his four totes of the pigskin accounted for 16 of the hosts’ 37 yards as the Old Gold and Blue made it 10-0 on a 28-yard Evan Stanley field goal.

NOTE: In other news from the Old Gold and Blue:

*Former-Parkersburg South standout Hunter Delong made his debut for the Mountaineers wrestling team, but dropped a 7-1 decision to No. 21 Tanner Orndorff from Utah Valley.