MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Quarterback Will Grier said he never doubted West Virginia could dig out of an 18-point second-half hole against No. 24 Texas Tech.
“It’s important to be the guy the team can look to and know we’re never out of a game,” said Grier, whose five touchdowns included four in the second half when West Virginia reeled off 29 consecutive points to defeat the Red Raiders 46-35 on Saturday.
Stung by close losses to Virginia Tech and TCU, the Mountaineers (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) finished the comeback this time and snapped a nine-game skid against Top 25 teams that dated back to 2014.
Nic Shimonek tossed four scores for Texas Tech (4-2, 1-2), which led 35-17 in the third quarter before Grier got cranked up and the Mountaineers’ defense developed a spine.
“I thought for the last quarter we were obviously much better than they were, and that was about the only quarter we were better than them” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
Grier finished 32-of-41 passing for 352 yards, salvaging an offense that rushed for only 44 yards. The Big 12’s leading rusher Justin Crawford finished with 47 yards on 14 attempts, snapping his string of five consecutive 100-yard games.
“You’ve got to do what works, you’ve got to have answers,” Grier said. “They were flat-out loading the box, so we spread it out and our receivers played a really good game.”
David Sills added to his FBS lead by catching three touchdowns, one on a tackle-eligible play that tricked the Texas Tech secondary. Ka’Raun White had 114 receiving yards and scored twice in the fourth quarter, one on a leaping 32-yarder that energized the home crowd and again on a 17-yarder that gave West Virginia its first lead at 39-35.
Shimonek completed 24-of-39 passes for 323 yards, but only 71 came after halftime. Justin Stockton ran for 97 yards and Tre King scored on a 30-yard touchdown for the Red Raiders, who failed to score on their final four series.
“This one hurts,” said Shimonek, whose offense converted 1-of-7 third downs in the second half. “They just got the momentum and it seemed like all of a sudden we couldn’t do anything right.”
Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson flipped the game plan by going away from his blitzing nature after King popped through the pressure on the touchdown run. Instead the defense began dropping eight and forcing Shimonek to throw into tighter windows.
“I’m disgusted how we played in the first half and really proud how we played in the second half,” Gibson said.
While Shimonek threw four first-half touchdowns, Texas Tech settled for a 28-17 lead after Michael Barden missed field-goal tries of 43 and 23 yards.
Braden fell to 0-for-3 by mishitting a straight-on 37-yarder in the third quarter.
“Obviously a few of the missed kicks were tough there,” said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, whose record dropped to 1-4 against the Mountaineers.
West Virginia was held to minus-10 yards rushing at the half on 12 carries.
T.J. Vasher took a screen pass 60 yards for Texas Tech’s opening score and outjumped cornerback Kenny Robinson on a 58-yard touchdown later in the half.
In between, Shimonek threw 6-yard scores to Dylan Cantrell and KeKe Coutee, as the Raiders avoided punting throughout the half. They lined up in formation on a fourth-and-1 at their 34-yard line but punter Dominic Panazzolo ran 13 yards on a fake.
West Virginia was outgained for the first time this season, 513-396, yet staged the second-largest comeback in program history.
“I give our players credit, because there was a point in the third quarter where I thought they didn’t have it in them,” Holgorsen said. “Then, all of a sudden, it happened and our players seized the opportunity.”