MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Will Grier threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns, Justin Crawford added 113 yards rushing and No. 23 West Virginia overcame its early mistakes to hold off Kansas State 28-23 on Saturday.
Ka’Raun White had eight catches for 168 yards and two scores, and David Sills V also had a pair of TD catches, helping the Mountaineers (7-3, 5-2) stay alive in the race for the Big 12 title game.
The Wildcats (5-5, 3-4) closed to 28-23 early in the fourth quarter, but an offense down to third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson couldn’t get its team all the way back.
Thompson threw for 159 yards with two interceptions in his first career start for the Wildcats, who still need a win to become bowl-eligible for the eighth consecutive year. Dalvin Warmack added 96 yards rushing and bruising fullback Winston Dimel reached the end zone twice.
The nip-and-tuck game was indicative of the series: The last three meetings had been decided by eight points total, including the Mountaineers’ 17-16 comeback win in Morgantown last year.
They tried to fumble this one away early on, coughing it up twice in the damp, cold weather. Grier also threw a pair of first-half interceptions, one of which was returned inside their 5.
But Kansas State stumbled while trying to take advantage of the mistakes.
The Wildcats had to settle for a pair of early field goals, which West Virginia wiped out with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Grier to White, and struggled to put together sustained drives.
Sills added his two TD catches as the Mountaineers finally hit their stride.
Still, Kansas State got within 21-20 and had the ball in the closing seconds of the first half when Thompson was picked off on a poorly designed screen play. West Virginia had time for one play, and Grier scrambled long enough to find White in the end zone with a 30-yard touchdown pass.
The Wildcats’ defense stiffened in the second half, but their offense still couldn’t do much. Matt McCrane missed a 32-yard field goal — coach Bill Snyder argued in vain that it went through the uprights — before hitting from 29 yards to make it 28-23 with 12:44 to go.
Kansas State was trying to take the lead when Thompson was picked by Kenny Robinson deep in West Virginia territory. And even though the Wildcats’ defense forced a quick punt, the turnover flipped the field with about 6 minutes remaining, emboldening the Mountaineers’ defense.
They forced a punt of their own, and Grier converted on fourth down with 2:29 left, allowing West Virginia to run out the clock at the Kansas State goal line.
West Virginia overcame four turnovers and some uncharacteristic dropped passes. Gary Jennings was a big part of the success, catching 13 passes for 115 yards as the Wildcats tried to take White and Sills away in the passing game. The Mountaineers’ defense also made life miserable for Thompson, sacking the freshman four times and piling up 11 tackles for loss.
Kansas State’s defense, which had surrendered at least 400 yards passing in three straight games, was good enough to keep it close. But the offense struggled behind an inexperienced quarterback who made several poor decisions and often held onto the ball too long.
West Virginia heads home to face Texas on Saturday before a trip to No. 5 Oklahoma.
Kansas State plays its road finale against No. 12 Oklahoma State on Saturday.