AMES, Iowa -- West Virginia and Iowa State traded the lead three times in the fourth quarter Friday, but embattled safety Darwin Cook made sure there wouldn't be a fourth.
Cook, who because of injuries and performance hadn't started the previous two games and didn't play the one before that, forced a fumble as Cyclones fullback Jeff Woody was readying to tie the score with 4:05 to go. Freshman safety Karl Joseph recovered in the end zone.
It was the only turnover of the game on a cold, windy day and helped WVU end its longest losing streak since 1986 with the 31-24 victory.
"Our approach has been pretty good the last month, but we came up a little bit short," said Coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team had dropped five straight games. "We knew it would be a tough game and we set it out for them as far as the rowdiness of this place and how the wind chill was going to be a little different than what we're used to.
"But we were playing a good football team that doesn't beat themselves. You have to earn everything and we hung in there and made enough plays to win the game."
A week removed from his 344 yards rushing and 572 all-purpose yards, Tavon Austin had 75 yards rushing, 99 yards receiving and 86 yards in returns. More importantly, a punt return to set up a field goal and a short pass turned into the eventual game-winning 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter before 53,792 at Jack Trice Stadium.
He now has a school-record 106 receptions this season and 2,572 all-purpose yards, one yard shy of his school record set last year.
Shawne Alston carried a season-high 19 times for a career-high 130 yards and a touchdown and converted a big third down with 2:12 remaining. Quarterback Geno Smith completed 22 of 31 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns and receiver Stedman Bailey, a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, caught seven passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Bailey has a school-record 1,342 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. The NCAA record is 27.
Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson, in his first career start, completed 13 of 31 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns.
"I would rate it as an all right performance," Cyclones Coach Paul Rhoads said. "Three-man fronts are a unique formation to prepare for. They give a lot of different angles and pressures and they did a nice job of covering us."
He also ran 18 times for 119 yards, the first WVU opponent to rush for 100 yards this season.
"He's a good player, a little bit more elusive than we thought he was," Holgorsen said. "Some of that was our inability to pin him in the pocket."
The Mountaineers (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) hadn't won since beating Texas on the road Oct. 6. Two of the losses were decided by one play against TCU and Oklahoma, but they found a way to make the difference against the Cyclones (6-6, 3-6).
"We had plenty of opportunities, it seems like the last year-and-a-half going back to the Texas game, but they said, 'Enough is enough,' and kept fighting," Holgorsen said.
With the win, they're bowl eligible and can improve their postseason prospects in next Saturday's regular-season finale at home against Kansas (1-10, 0-8). WVU's most likely options are the Pinstripe Bowl Dec. 29 against a Big East team at Yankee Stadium or the Holiday Bowl Dec. 28 against a Pac-12 team in San Diego.
The frenzy at the finish began when Tyler Bitancurt's 30-yard field goal attempt skipped off the left upright and went through for a 23-21 lead with 9:35 remaining, but the Mountaineers could have had more.
Austin looked like he had another heroic punt return touchdown, this one 68 yards, but freshman K.J. Dillon was guilty of a holding penalty at the 26-yard line. WVU picked up a first down to the 25, but then had a delay of game penalty that changed the drive and ended up necessitating the field goal on fourth-and-3.
Iowa State answered right back, converting a third-and-3 with a 4-yard run by Richardson and then moving close enough for a 49-yard field goal to go ahead 24-23. WVU wasted almost no time, though. After a touchback, Austin scored on a 75-yard play after coming right to left in motion and catching the touch pass from Smith.
Austin, who wasn't used as a running back on a pair of two-point conversions in last week's loss to Oklahoma, got the carry on the two-point conversion and lunged over the goal line for a 31-24 lead with 6:31 to go.
"I thought we left too much time," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said, jokingly.