By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Paramount Pictures couldn’t have scripted a more fitting end to one of the most forgettable seasons in Mountaineer football history.
Leading 31-14 midway though the third quarter, West Virginia looked as though it would reward its seniors with a big win on its home field and at least create a little momentum heading into 2014.
Instead, WVU (4-8, 2-7 Big 12) provided its fans with a painful reminder of why the 2013 season turned so sour, giving up 31 of the next 38 points to allow Iowa State to eventually get the game to overtime, where it won 52-44 after three extra periods.
“We have talked about finishing all year long,” said Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorsen, now 6-13 in his last 19 games. “It is something that will be addressed in the offseason. We have had issues closing games this year. Why can’t we win close games? It comes down to execution and a burning desire to win.”
The Cyclones (3-9, 2-7 Big 12) won their second straight game after starting 0-7 in Big 12 play. WVU, meanwhile, lost for the sixth time in seven contests, ending the season with back-to-back losses against the Big 12’s bottom two teams. The Mountaineers finished ahead of only Kansas in the Big 12 standings, despite the fact that the Jayhawks beat the Mountaineers for their only conference win last month, breaking a 27-game league losing streak in the process.
“We just stayed focused and kept playing,” said ISU head coach Paul Rhoads, who coached in front of the third-smallest crowd in Mountaineer Field history (33,735). “We just kept playing, trusting that our defense could put up some stops and that our offense could do the job.”
The Cyclones outscored WVU 24-7 over the final 15 minutes, forcing the overtime when Justin Coleman hauled in a 19-yard pass from quarterback Grant Rohach with 1 minute left in regulation.
The teams exchanged field goals in the first two overtime periods, before Coleman and Rohach hooked up again, this time from 25 yards out. The Mountaineers drove to the ISU 3-yard line on their possession, but a fourth-down pass from Clint Trickett to Daikiel Shorts was stopped 3 yards short of the end zone, and the Cyclones stormed the field in celebration of the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history.
“We thought we played with effort, but just couldn’t make the plays,” said Holgorsen. “We just didn’t finish the game.”
Overtime seemed to be an unlikely scenario after WVU’s best first half of the season. The Mountaineers led 31-14 at the break after racking up a season-high 296 yards of offense in the first 30 minutes.
Charles Sims scored two first-half touchdown in his final game in a WVU uniform, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the season on his second, a 76-yard jaunt that put the Mountaineers ahead 31-7. The other offensive score in the first half came on a 17-yard Trickett touchdown pass to Kevin White.
Special teams got in on the action with a 49-yard field goal from Josh Lambert to break the ice in the opening quarter, and the defense even got points when Karl Joseph returned a fumble 38 yards for a first-quarter score.
After the break, though, everything that went right for WVU in the first half suddenly went wrong.
WVU’s only chance for points in the third quarter ended when Wendell Smallwood fumbled trying to reach the ball over the goal line for what would have given the Mountaineers a 38-14 lead. Instead, ISU got the football after the call was upheld on a video review and built some momentum by driving 99 yards in 12 plays, scoring on a 3-yard Shontrelle Johnson run to open the fourth-quarter scoring and pull within 10.
The Mountaineers answered with a 76-yard pass from Trickett to Mario Alford, who finished the game with 215 receiving yards on eight catches, but that was the last time they sniffed the goal line.
The Cyclones scored on a 62-yard pass from Rohach to Quenton Bundrage, their second touchdown connection of the game to cut the lead back to 10 — a drive that was kept alive by a 21-yard run by punter Kirby Van Der Kamp on a fake punt. They then converted a WVU fumble into a 31-yard Cole Netten field goal to make the score 38-31 and then got the ball back off of a Trickett interception to set up the game-tying drive.
ISU, ranked 97th nationally in scoring coming into the game, racked up 575 yards of offense against a bruised and battered WVU defense, including 244 on the ground.
Rohach, a freshman, was the offensive star, throwing for 331 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 66 and another score. Bundrage caught two touchdowns to give him nine for the season, tying an ISU single-season record.
WVU had some strong individual performances, as well, including a 149-yard rushing effort from Sims. Trickett threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns, but his two interceptions proved costly, as WVU lost its second of three overtime games this season.
The Mountaineers finished below .500 for the first time since Rich Rodriguez’s WVU squad went 3-8 in 2001, his first season in Morgantown. WVU will also be left out of a bowl game for the first time since that season.
Up next? Alabama.
The Mountaineers will open the 2014 season on Aug. 30 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga., for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against the Crimson Tide.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
Iowa St. 7 7 0 24 3 3 8 — 52
WVU 17 14 0 7 3 3 0 — 44
WVU—FG Lambert 49, 11:36.
WVU—Sims 7 run (Lambert kick), 4:16.
WVU—Joseph 38 fumble return (Lambert kick), 3:57.
ISU—Rohach 54 run (Netten kick), 1:19.
WVU—K.White 17 pass from Trickett (Lambert kick), 14:55.
WVU—Sims 76 run (Lambert kick), 9:05.
ISU—Bundrage 10 pass from Rohach (Netten kick), 7:23.
ISU—Johnson 3 run (Netten kick), 14:00.
WVU—Alford 76 pass from Trickett (Lambert kick), 13:42.
ISU—Bundrage 62 pass from Rohach (Netten kick), 9:38.
ISU—FG Netten 31, 4:21.
ISU—Coleman 19 pass from Rohach (Netten kick), 1:00.
ISU—FG Netten 40.
WVU—FG Lambert 41.
WVU—FG Lambert 26.
ISU—FG Netten 26.
ISU—Coleman 25 pass from Rohach (Bibbs pass from Rohach).
First downs 26 19
Rushes-yards 53-244 36-212
Passing 331 356
Comp-Att-Int 25-39-1 21-38-2
Return Yards 16 6
Punts-Avg. 4-37.0 3-56.0
Fumbles-Lost 4-1 3-2
Penalties-Yards 8-54 6-45
Time of Possession 36:50 23:10
RUSHING—Iowa St., Johnson 18-72, Rohach 9-66, Wimberly 15-52, Van Der Kamp 1-21, Woody 4-17, J.White 3-15, Nealy 2-6, Bundrage 1-(minus 5). West Virginia, Sims 24-149, D.Smith 5-58, Smallwood 4-14, Trickett 3-(minus 9).
PASSING—Iowa St., Rohach 25-39-1-331. West Virginia, Trickett 21-37-2-356, Team 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Iowa St., Bundrage 7-93, Coleman 5-91, Wimberly 5-59, Bibbs 3-75, Ecby 2-22, Johnson 1-1, J.West 1-(minus 3), J.White 1-(minus 7). West Virginia, Alford 8-215, McCartney 3-28, Sims 2-30, K.White 2-27, Shorts 2-25, Thompson 2-13, Davis 1-12, Clay 1-6.