WVU then looked like it forced a punt when Richardson gained just two yards on third-and-8, but linebacker Josh Francis was called for a personal foul for pulling Richardson's facemask after the play. On third-and-10 later in the drive, defensive end Will Clarke was penalized for illegal hands to the face and the Cyclones were at the WVU 7. Woody fumbled at the 5 on the next play.
"The last three weeks have been tough," said Holgorsen, whose teams lost two one-point games and one 21-point game when special teams gave away 17 points. "We could be sitting here with a lot better record than we have right now if it wasn't just one play here, one play there, but there's nothing we can do about it. We had to look forward and out guys were determined to get the win."
WVU, which enjoyed the rare luxury of a lead in the first quarter, found itself trailing late in the third quarter, 21-20.
The offense opened the second half with a 15-play, 43-yard drive that took 7:28 off the clock, but ended when Bitancurt kicked a 44-yard field goal for a 20-14 lead. The Mountaineers had a first down at the Iowa State 23, but a holding penalty derailed the momentum.
The Cyclones countered and Richardson ran for 11 yards and passed for nine before shaking linebacker Jared Barber for a 2-yard gain on third-and-1. On second-and-9, Richardson threw to receiver Quenton Bundrage on the left side and the ball sneaked over the head of cornerback Terrell Chestnut for a 35-yard touchdown.
That was the 10th touchdown pass of 35 yards or more against WVU's defense this season.
The Cyclones forced a punt and had something going after punter Kirby Van Der Kamp kept the snap on fourth-and-11 and ran for the first down to WVU's 41. On third-and-4, Richardson moved left and had a chance to run for the first down, but instead flicked a pass ahead that fell between defenders and a receiver. Nose guard Shaq Rowell tipped the fourth down pass and the defense held at its 35.
The Mountaineers scored first for the first time since their last win with a 42-yard field goal from Bitancurt, though that drive looked headed for a better ending. It was first-and-10 at Iowa State's 32, but left tackle Quinton Spain was called for a false start on back-to-back plays.
Austin ran for 17 yards on second down, but stepped out of bounds and then Smith threw well over Bailey's head on a short route on the third down play.
The 3-0 lead was also WVU's first first-quarter lead since the Texas game. Opponents had a 62-17 scoring edge in the last five first quarters.
"It didn't help us out in the third quarter when we were down," Holgorsen said. "We talked a bunch about just keep playing. Don't look at the scoreboard. Keep playing, whether you're winning or losing."
WVU's defense forced another punt and the offense was on the move again, but J.D. Woods couldn't hang onto a pass in the middle on first down and Austin lost three yards on a run on second down. A middle screen to Woods gained a yard and Bitancurt's 46-yard attempt hit the left upright, though Bitancurt tried and failed to draw a penalty for roughing the kicker.
Iowa State countered and reached WVU's 30, but Edwin Arceo's 47-yard attempt hit the right upright.
Smith hit Bailey on the left sideline for 27 yards and Alston ran 15 yards through the middle before Smith and Bailey connected again for 23 yards over the middle to the Iowa State 5. Alston scored two plays later and the 10-0 lead was the first double-digit advantage since a 24-14 lead against TCU Nov. 3.
The defense did the offense no favors, though, and Richardson completed a 12-yard pass on third-and-10 inside cornerback Pat Miller and then scrambled for 10 yards on second-and-8 before WVU linebacker Shaq Petteway hit a sliding Richardson for a 15-yard penalty.
After running for seven yards on first down, Richardson threw to receiver Jerome Tiller, who slanted inside cornerback Rick Rumph, but dropped the pass. On the very next play, Richardson again looked left to Tiller and Rumph, who Holgorsen said this week had "no business playing corner in the Big 12 at this point in his career," simply stopped at the goal line while Tiller faded into the corner for an easy touchdown.
The Mountaineers were in a groove on offense, though, and went 70 yards in eight plays and didn't encounter a third down before Smith and Bailey connected on a 6-yard touchdown pass.
The Cyclones took the ball with 4:03 remaining, but WVU forced a three-and-out. Austin ripped off nine yards on first down, but right tackle Curtis Feigt was called for a holding penalty on second down and Andrew Buie lost a yard on second-and-11. The Mountaineers punted and the Cyclones took over with 1:32 to go.
Richardson gained 18 yards with a pass to Jarvis West on third-and-10. Iowa State gambled on fourth-and-6 with half a minute left in the half. WVU covered the pass routes, but Richardson ran for 21 yards and a first down. He threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to receiver Josh Lentz with 18 seconds left.
It was the fourth touchdown WVU allowed in the final minute of the first half in a Big 12 game -- and another at Texas came with 1:14 remaining.