WVU downs Iowa State to snap 5-game losing streak
AMES, Iowa — A week earlier, Tavon Austin scored what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown for West Virginia, only to be betrayed by his defense.
Given a second chance against Iowa State on Friday, the Mountaineers' defense came up big.
WVU backed up Austin's 75-yard touchdown catch at the 6:31 mark in the fourth quarter with a goal-line stop to preserve a much-needed 31-24 win in front of 53,792 fans at Jack Trice Stadium.
Safety Darwin Cook's hit on Iowa State running back Jeff Woody caused a fumble that was recovered by fellow safety Karl Joseph in the end zone for a touchback with less than four minutes remaining.
“I was thinking, ‘This can't happen again,'” Joseph said. “Cook just made a great play, and I recovered the fumble.”
The win snapped a five-game losing streak — WVU's longest since 1986 — and helped the Mountaineers regain confidence after suffering two losses during the streak in the closing minutes.
West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) also became bowl eligible.
“There were plenty of opportunities to say enough's enough and quit fighting. I'm proud of our guys. We hung in there and made enough plays to win the game,” coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Heavy, swirling winds and Iowa State's defense stifled WVU's passing attack early. Quarterback Geno Smith was held to 36 passing yards in the first quarter, but the Mountaineers countered with a strong running game.
Senior Shawne Alston rushed for a career-high 130 yards and a touchdown, while Alston added 74 yards rushing.
Smith completed 22 of 31 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
Tyler Bitancurt's 40-yard field goal gave WVU a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter. The Mountaineers maintained the lead after one quarter as their defense held Iowa State without a score on its first three possessions.
Navigating the wind better in the second quarter, Smith connected on his first two passes for 50 yards, both to Stedman Bailey. One play later, Alston scored on a 1-yard run to make it 10-0.
Iowa State (6-6, 3-6) answered. Redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Richardson directed the Cyclones 69 yards in 10 plays. Richardson's 11-yard touchdown pass to Jerome Tiller in the corner of the end zone sliced WVU's led to 10-7.
The Mountaineers' offense, however, was on a roll. Alston rushed for 25 yards on two carries, and Andrew Buie gained 15 more yards on a pair of rushes. An offsides penalty against Iowa State gave the Mountaineers first-and-5 at the 15. Two plays later, Smith's 6-yard pass to Bailey made it 17-7 with 4:10 remaining before intermission.
Iowa State scored its second consecutive touchdown, driving 71 yards in nine plays. Richardson's 18-yard touchdown strike to Josh Lenz made it 17-14 with 18 seconds left before halftime.
Bitancurt's 44-yard field goal extended WVU's lead to 20-14 in the third quarter.
Iowa State took its first lead of the game on its next possession. Mixing the run with the pass, Richardson capped a seven-play, 62-yard drive with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Quenton Bundrage that made it 21-20.
Thanks to a suddenly stubborn defense, WVU regained the lead at 23-21 on Bitancurt's 35-yard field goal that bounced off the upright and went through.
The Mountaineers got the ball when their defense held on downs. Austin's 42-yard punt return set up WVU in good field position.
Iowa State, though, answered with a field goal of its own to take a 24-23 lead.
That set up Austin's late-game heroics. Fielding a short pass from Smith, Austin sprinted down the sideline to score untouched.
“Coach called a nice play,” Austin said, “our guys made nice blocks downfield, and it just felt good.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.