via the Sports Xchange
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Justin Crawford ran for 209 yards, Skyler Howard accounted for three touchdowns and No. 16 West Virginia overcame a slow start to hold off Baylor 24-21 in a Big 12 game Saturday.
Gary Jennings took a slant pass 58 yards and Daikiel Shorts made an acrobatic, toe-tapping touchdown grab as the Mountaineers (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) wrapped up their winningest season since joining the conference in 2012.
Zach Smith’s 48-yard touchdown strike to Ishmael Zamora gave Baylor (6-6, 3-6) a chance to rally with 2:40 left, but the Bears’ recovery of an onside kick was negated by an illegal block.
“I guess it’s fitting that in a year where we battle and fight and get to 10 wins, we get to it the hardest way possible,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
Reports surfaced midgame that Holgorsen received a four-year contract extension through 2021. While his team is likely headed to the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28, Holgorsen lobbied for a power-six bowl invitation.
“I think we probably deserve to,” he said. “For the life me, I can’t figure out how we’re ranked 16th. We’ve got two losses to two top-10 teams. There’s other schools that have two and three losses that are ahead of us that don’t have losses to two top-10 schools.
“I don’t get how that is. Doesn’t make any sense to me. Maybe we win too ugly.”
The ugly method triumphed again Saturday, with West Virginia misfiring on two field-goal tries and Howard completing only 10 of 26 passes for a season-low 111 yards. Yet the Mountaineers’ running game compensated: Crawford carried 28 times for a 7.5-yard average and Martell Pettaway added 63 of the Mountaineers’ 312 on the ground.
Baylor’s freshman quarterback Smith threw for 244 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and two lost fumbles. Yet the Bears nearly avoided closing the regular season on a six-game skid after grabbing the late onside kick.
Coach Jim Grobe wasn’t sure whether the replay booth was correct in forcing a re-kick.
“The ruling from what I understand is we blocked them before they had the opportunity for the ball to hit their player, but then there were some controversies to whether they blocked us to keep us away from the ball,” Grobe said. “So who blocked who is kind of the deal. I thought is was a little bit crazy.”
Baylor led 14-3 after KD Cannon caught a 60-yard touchdown pass and Terence Williams added a 9-yard run. Then West Virginia reeled off 21 unanswered points, including Howard’s 1-yard sneak set up by Marvin Gross’ strip-sack of Smith at the Bears’ 6.
Gross, a junior who started because usual safety Kyzir White suffered a broken hand last week, also had two sacks and a first-quarter interception.
“When it’s time, it’s time,” Gross said. “When you get your chance, you have to make plays. That’s how you stay on the field.”