WVU football: Mountaineers waste large lead, lose in OT
MORGANTOWN -- The bad news for West Virginia is Saturday's game had the third-smallest crowd in the 34-year history of Mountaineer Field.
And perhaps that's the good news, too, because only 33,735 saw the school's first losing team since 2001 waste a 31-7 lead and fall to Iowa State, 52-44, in three overtimes.
"Obviously, a disappointing end to the game and a disappointing end to a disappointing season," Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "That's the best way I can sum that one up."
The only smaller crowds since the stadium opened in 1980 were when 27,751 watched a win against Louisiana Tech in November 1992 and when 32,597 saw a win against Bowling Green in September 1991.
The Mountaineers led 17-0 in their most productive first quarter of the season and 31-7 late in the highest-scoring half of the season. It was a 38-21 lead when receiver Mario Alford submitted the longest play of the season, a 76-yard touchdown reception, with 13:42 left to play.
"Then it seemed like just about everything that could have gone wrong went wrong," linebacker Doug Rigg said.
The Cyclones, a two-win outfit entering the game with the wins coming against teams with a combined six victories, ripped off a touchdown, a field goal and a touchdown, that with a minute left in regulation.
WVU did its part to help. It began when punter Kirby Van Der Kamp scampered 21 yards on a fake on fourth-and-17 at WVU's 21-yard line on the first drive, which ended with a 62-yard touchdown pass to Quenton Bundrage.
Then came killer turnovers on back-to-back possessions. Receiver Vernon Davis was hit and lost a fumble at his 26 to set up a 31-yard field goal and receiver Kevin White couldn't hang onto a pass that was intercepted at the 24 and set up a 19-yard touchdown catch by Justin Campbell to force overtime.
Davis and White both had first downs before their turnovers.
A season that ended with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State arrived at the official conclusion when quarterback Clint Trickett threw short of the goal line in the third overtime to Daikiel Shorts for a three-yard gain when the Mountaineers (4-8, 2-7 Big 12) needed five yards to reach the end zone.
WVU kicked field goals on the first two overtime possessions.
"We had what I thought were two good weeks of practice to get these guys in position to send them out right and I thought everyone involved did care and did play with effort," Holgorsen said. "I thought we had an issue with that two weeks ago, as I made that known, but I don't think that was it (Saturday). The bottom line is you can't turn the ball over like we did and win."
Trickett, who missed the Kansas game with a concussion, started and completed 21 of 37 passes for 356 yards and two scores, but also two interceptions. Alford caught eight passes for 215 yards. Running back Charles Sims carried 24 times for 149 yards and two scores.
Of the 568 yards of offense, WVU ran for 212 yards, but only eight in the fourth quarter and the overtimes.
Bundrage had 83 yards receiving and two scores and Coleman had 91 yards and two scores, including the game-winner on the first play of the third overtime. Quarterback Grant Rohach made his fourth career start and was 25-for-39 for 331 yards and four scores, but also had a 54-yard touchdown run. That was part of a season-high 244 yards rushing for the Cyclones.
"We just stayed focused and kept on playing," said Coach Paul Rhoads. "You can't rush things in a situation like that. The fake punt probably provided a bit of an energy boost for them, but we never had a surprise onside kick or anything like that. We just kept playing, trusting that our defense could put up some stops and that our offense could do the job.
"We finally got some turnovers of our own to get some gains."
It was the Cyclones (3-9, 2-7) giving away possessions early, though. Rohach threw an interception near his end zone to set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Sims for a 10-0 lead. On the next play, safety Karl Joseph recovered a fumble and returned it 38 yards for a score.
The Mountaineers were being outscored 92-64 in the opening quarter this season.
Rohach's touchdown run got the Cyclones on the board, but Trickett and White connected for a 17-yard score. After Iowa State missed a field goal, Sims ran for a 76-yard touchdown that also made him WVU's first 1,000-yard back since Noel Devine in 2009.
The Mountaineers were up 31-7 in what was their most prolific half of the season. They scored 24 points in the first half against Oklahoma State and in the second half against Georgia State.
The Cyclones scored again before the half on a Rohach pass to Bundrage, but the Mountaineers seemed ready to put the game away late in the third quarter. Freshman running back Wendell Smallwood pushed toward the end zone and extended the ball to cross the goal line, but fumbled away possession at the 1.
Iowa State covered the 99 yards in 12 plays and Shontrelle Johnson's short touchdown run made it 31-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Trickett then hit Alford with a short throw on a quick slant and Alford ran away from everyone for a 76-yard touchdown.
It was WVU's second one-play, 76-yard touchdown drive of the game. The other scoring drives were seven plays for 38 yards, two plays for six yards and four plays for 91 yards.
Ultimately, though, it preceded one final collapse by a Mountaineers team that suffered similar letdowns this season against Texas Tech, TCU, Kansas State and Texas.
"We talked about finishing all year long," Holgorsen said. "Obviously, that's going to be something that's got to be addressed in the offseason when it comes to the issues we had this year. We've had issues closing games this year. Why can't we close games? It comes down to execution, a burning desire to win, a collection of guys who don't want to let each other down, coaches and players included.
"Obviously, we're not at that point right now."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.