MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Skyler Howard was waiting for something good to happen to West Virginia’s offense.
That occurred in the fourth quarter, when the Mountaineers came from 13 points down to beat Kansas State 17-16 on Saturday in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
“You know the snowball effect where you get one thing going wrong and the snowball just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger?” Howard said. “You’re looking around like, man, we need a spark. We need something to happen.”
“Our guys came together and kept fighting. Nobody was down or pointing fingers.”
Despite being held scoreless in the first half for the first time in three seasons, West Virginia improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2012. The Mountaineers broke a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats since joining the league that year.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of our team for having the courage to go out there and do that in the second half,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
Kansas State (2-2) had a chance to win it. But Matthew McCrane, who earlier made three field goals, missed a 43-yarder wide left with 2:03 left. West Virginia got the ball at its 26 and ran out the clock.
Kansas State was limited to 108 yards of offense in the second half.
“Our execution was not as good as it needs to be,” said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. “We just probably didn’t move the ball like we should. We struggled offensively in the second half when we had to have some movement. Couldn’t get first downs.”
West Virginia’s turnaround began when Shelton Gibson caught a 52-yard pass near the end of the third quarter and Ka’Raun White caught a 7-yarder on fourth-and-6 four plays later. Justin Crawford ran nine yards on first-and-goal and he finished the drive with a 1-yard TD run with 13:41 left to cut the deficit to 16-10.
A 31-yard punt later gave West Virginia the ball back at its 43, and Howard converted a third-down pass to Ka’Raun White at the Kansas State 9 before scrambling to find Jovon Durante in the right corner of the end zone from 7 yards out with 6:11 left for the final margin.
“I saw a little window and we took it,” said Howard, who finished 24 of 41 passes for 298 yards with one interception. “In the grand scheme of things, we make that play a lot in practice. But to finally do it in a game, it paid off.”
West Virginia squeaked by for the second straight game. A week ago the Mountaineers were ahead of BYU by 16 points in the fourth quarter and needed Maurice Fleming’s interception to seal the 35-32 win .
“Finding a way to win is the most important thing,” Holgorsen said.
KANSAS STATE: The Wildcats entered the game with the nation’s top defense but gave up 422 yards to the Mountaineers. Kansas State was held to 286 total yards of offense and Jesse Ertz completed 10 of 30 passes for 166 yards.
Snyder said Ertz was “not like he has been in the last couple of weeks. But once again, West Virginia had an awful lot to do with that.”
WEST VIRGINIA: The Mountaineers left plenty of points off the board. Rushel Shell fumbled the ball away at the Kansas State 3 late in the third quarter, and Josh Lambert earlier missed a 30-yard field goal.
West Virginia could get enough votes to sneak into the AP Top 25 poll but needed a more convincing win to ensure that happens. The Mountaineers entered Saturday’s game four spots out of the poll.
KANSAS STATE: Hosts Texas Tech next Saturday.
WEST VIRGINIA: Heads into a bye week before playing its first true road game of the season at Texas Tech on Oct. 15.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org