Iowa State running back Jeff Woody (32) fumbles near the goal line against West Virginia during the final minutes Saturday. WVU won 31-24. (Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE)
Tavon Austin did it again, running 75 yards with a Jet Sweep touch pass to give West Virginia a fourth-quarter lead, and then came the real surprise — the Mountaineers defense made it stand up.
Safety Darwin Cook forced a fumble as Iowa State headed for the tying touchdown in the final four minutes, and WVU hung on to beat the Cyclones 31-24, snapping a five-game losing streak. West Virginia (6-5, 3-5) finally became bowl-eligible, a distinction that was all but assumed after a blistering 5-0 start.
“I’m proud that our guys kept fighting after learning a lot about our new league, and learning a lot about coming out on the short end of the stick — which is not much fun,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “We could be sitting here with a much better record if it weren’t for one play here or one play there.”
Austin’s stat line didn’t resemble last week’s 344-yard rushing performance against Oklahoma, but he was the difference-maker nonetheless. He caught six passes for 99 yards, ran 14 times for 74 more and was an effective decoy when Shawne Alston gashed the middle of the Cyclones’ defense for 130 yards on 19 carries.
“That’s my man,” Alston said. “We’ve been trying to get the Alston-Austin thing going since freshman year.”
Tyler Bitancurt’s 35-yard field goal put WVU ahead 23-21, but it was a hollow feeling after seeing Austin’s punt-return score negated by a holding call on K.J. Dillon.
Iowa State answered on its ensuing drive with a 46-yard kick by Edwin Arceo to regain a 24-23 advantage, but it lasted all of 11 seconds.
On WVU’s next play, Austin delivered the decisive touchdown, catching a volley pass in front of Geno Smith and racing down the Mountaineers sideline. Austin also ran in the 2-point conversion.
“He did what he’s done all year — he’s a great football player,” said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, whose team closed the regular season 6-6 overall and 2-6 in the league. “It was a similar formation they’ve used (previously). They were able to block another guy and it led to a foot race.”
The Cyclones got a gutsy performance from redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Richardson, who tossed three touchdowns and scrambled for 119 yards — becoming the first opponent this season to top the century-mark against WVU’s rushing defense.
Richardson seemed to have rallied ISU with a game-tying, 14-yard touchdown pass to Gary Albert, but Cook broke up the pass as Albert tumbled out of bounds. On fourth down, WVU defensive end Will Clarke was flagged for hands to the face, giving ISU a first-and-goal at the 7. That’s when Cook knocked the ball loose from Cyclones tailback Jeff Woody, resulting a fumble Karl JOseph recovered at the goal line.
Richardson gave Iowa State a 21-20 lead in the third quarter by throwing a 35-yard touchdown to Quenton Bundrage. But on ISU’s next drive, Richardson’s fourth-down pass was deflected incomplete by Shaq Rowell at the WVU 35.
Alston’s 1 yard touchdown staked WVU to a 10-0 lead, culminating a drive on which Smith hit Bailey twice for 50 yards. On the second completion, the wind knocked down Smith’s pass but Bailey adjusted his post route and caught a 23-yarder at the ISU 5.
After WVU’s defense pitched its first shutout quarter since the Week 3 win over Maryland, Iowa State broke through on Richardson’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Jerome Tiller with 7:57 left in the second quarter. The 69-yard, 10-play drive was extended by a third-and-10 pass from Richardson to Tiller for 12 yards near midfield.
West Virginia answered with a 70-yard march in eight plays — most of it on the ground, including a 21-yard rumble by Alston. Smith eventually found Bailey for a 6-yard score to make it 17-7 with 4:10 remaining in the half.
After an Iowa State three-and-out, WVU had a chance to pad its cushion, facing second-and-1 at the ISU 49. But after a holding penalty stalled the threat, ISU used a timeout to force a punt with 1:32 left, and that’s when the Mountaineers defense had a familiar late-half relapse.
The Cyclones converted on third-and-10 when Richardson floated an 18-yarder to Jarvis West, before Richardson conquered a fourth-and-6 with a 21-yard scramble to the WVU 18. On the next play, he flipped an easy touchdown to Josh Lenz, trimming the the deficit to 17-14 just 18 seconds before half.
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