McCrane kicks K-State past West Virginia

K-State senior quarterback Jake Waters drops back to pass on Nov. 20 at West Virginia. Waters threw for 400 yards and a touchdown while the Wildcats ran only for 1 yard. (Andrew Spellman | The Daily Athenaeum)

Turnovers, season-high numbers in penalties and botched special teams ruled the night in Milan Puskar Stadium. For senior wide receiver Curry Sexton, he’s happy to know it’s over and that they snuck out of Morgantown on a semi-positive note.

“That was ugly,” K-State receiver Curry Sexton said to the media following the game. “They just never died. Luckily, we were able to pull it out. The way we played and the way we finished drives was pretty pathetic. We are happy to get out of here with a win, but that was ugly.”

Freshman kicker Matthew McCrane knocked in four field goals and senior quarterback Jake Waters completed 22-of-34 passes for 400 yards and a touchdown as K-State (8-2, 6-1) hung on in the final seconds to knock off West Virginia (6-5, 4-4) in its final home game.

Senior wide receiver Tyler Lockett also had 10 catches for 196 yards and a 38-yard punt return for a touchdown. With the performance, he passed former K-State wide receiver Jordy Nelson (2006) for second all-time in career receptions and sits only four catches behind his father Kevin (1993-96), who had 217 in his career.

“I don’t normally do this but I went over to Lockett (after the game) and I said I’m glad you are graduating,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “That kid is just a special, special football player. He’s done it to us three years in a row – he’s as good as it gets.”

The Wildcats entered the second half with a commanding 17-3 lead and they saw West Virginia senior quarterback Clint Trickett leave the game with an undisclosed injury, however, sophomore junior college transfer Skyler Howard kept the Mountaineers alive.

Howard, who finished 15-of-23 for 198 yards and two touchdowns, led West Virginia into K-State territory late in the fourth quarter. Lambert closed the possession with a 25-yard field goal with :53 seconds remaining, but a Glenn Gronkowski recovery on the ensuing onside kick sealed the victory for the Wildcats.

Within K-State’s slow, methodical offense, Waters orchestrated a scoring drive off of their first possession. The eight-play, 45-yard drive started with a 23-yard punt return from Lockett was capped by a seven-yard touchdown catch from senior running back DeMarcus Robinson.

West Virginia was prepared to answer the Wildcats’ game-opening drive, but a fumbled exchange between Trickett and running back Wendell Smallwood inside K-State’s five-yard line thwarted an attempt at a tied score.

After failing to capitalize on the turnover, Jake Waters found senior tight end Zach Trujillo for a key 49-yard completion to start the next drive. However, a failed pitch on an option play between Robinson and Waters forced the Wildcats to settle for McCrane’s first field goal, which came from 36 yards.

In uncharacteristic fashion, K-State struggled with penalties, garnering 10 penalties for 102 yards in the game. It was the first time that the Wildcats had surpassed 100 yards of penalties since facing Missouri State on Sept. 15, 2007.

A pass interference call on senior Jonathan Truman ultimately led to a 47-yard field goal from West Virginia kicker Josh Lambert, which made it 10-3 with just over 8:00 minutes left in the first half.

On the ensuing kickoff, Lockett fumbled inside the K-State 30-yard line, but the Mountaineers were unable to capitalize off of the frequently-dependable leg of Lambert. The drive also nearly included what would have been one of the all-time great circus catches.

On third and 11, a Trickett pass was nearly intercepted by safety Dante Barnett near the goal line and it appeared initially that the ball didn’t hit the ground despite the junior rolling on the turf. However, official review caught the tip of the ball hitting the ground and West Virginia senior wide receiver Kevin White missed the opportunity at the unique touchdown catch.

West Virginia held K-State defensively on the following drive, but Lockett’s legs in the return game made up for the offensive deficiencies just a few minutes later.

Having to punt from their own end zone, Nick O’Toole booted a short, line drive to the All-American and he made them pay by making it a two-score game with a 43-yard punt return for a touchdown.

“Horrible punt,” Holgorsen said. “Our whole team went right and he miss-hit it left and it was one I could have scored on. It was obviously a big play.”

After gaining only 34 yards against TCU on Nov. 8, the running game didn’t come any easier for the Wildcats in Morgantown. They had -3 net yards at halftime and finished the game with one yard on 29 carries.

K-State opened the second half with a three-and-out, but a third West Virginia turnover and second Trickett interception gave the Wildcats the ball at their own 12-yard line with 12:03 left in the third quarter.

A 44-yard field goal from McCrane capped off the drive, giving the Wildcats a 20-3 lead with 9:29 left in the third quarter.

Howard stepped in for Trickett during West Virginia’s second possession in the second half and it was perfection in his first drive. He completed all four of his passes for 56 yards and it was concluded by a seven-yard touchdown pass to Kevin White.

With 1:30 remaining in the third quarter, Trickett was spotted returning to the field without his pads due to an undisclosed injury.

With an opportunity to cut K-State’s lead to single digits with 5:18 left in the third quarter, Nick Walsh was hit after his punt and the ball hit the toes of the West Virginia return man, giving the Wildcats the ball at the Mountaineer 11-yard line.

However, Waters was stuffed on a third and goal option play and it forced a third McCrane field goal, which came at 19 yards.

The Mountaineers were able to convert on two fourth-down attempts on their closing-quarter opening drive, one of which came on a pass-interference call on senior defensive back Randall Evans. Despite running 15 plays, K-State’s defense kept Howard and the West Virginia offense out of the end zone, forcing a turnover on downs.

With an opportunity to nearly seal the game with 9:30 left, K-State was held on third and goal and McCrane missed a 22-yard field goal, which was his second miss of the game.

West Virginia capitalized on its defensive stop, scoring on its next possession on a 54-yard touchdown pass to Mario Alford with 7:25 left.

Looking like they were going to move K-State to 2-of-11 on third downs, Waters found Lockett for a crucial 28-yard completion in opponent territory with 5:00 remaining. The nine -play drive was capped off by a 32-yard field goal from McCrane, which was his fourth and final of the game.