Mountain magic: Overtime interception gives Kansas 55-42 win at West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Cobee Bryant didn’t care that nearly everyone on Kansas’ sideline was yelling at him to down the football and end the game.
The sophomore cornerback saw the end zone and couldn’t stop.
“I wanted to score, to be honest,” Bryant said after his interception in overtime, which he returned 86 yards for a touchdown, gave the Jayhawks a 55-42 win at West Virginia.
“I wanted the pick six. Next time, I know to go down, but all I saw was green, so I just kept running. I wanted to make a statement to them — ‘goodnight.’ I said goodnight.”
Bryant and the Jayhawks did so emphatically, winning at Milan Puskar Stadium for the first time in a topsy-turvy game that tested their resilience.
Kansas, which won its Big 12 opener for the first time since 2009, climbed out of a 14-point first-quarter hole and was victorious despite squandering an 11-point lead with a little over four minutes remaining.
“I’m so proud of them,” coach Lance Leipold said. “We got our backs against the wall early, fought through that, got the lead and all that and played really well.”
West Virginia tied the score at 42-42 with 35 seconds remaining, and Kansas opted to take the game to overtime to put it away.
It lost the coin flip, and the Mountaineers’ decision to play defense first nearly paid off. Quarterback Jalon Daniels’ third-down pass to Torry Locklin lost 6 yards, but defensive end Taijh Alston was called for roughing the passer.
Daniels, who finished 18-for-29 for 219 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, made West Virginia pay by throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Quentin Skinner over safety Marcus Floyd.
West Virginia was up next, and quarterback JT Daniels, who transferred from national champion Georgia following last season, appeared to have lost the ball on a fumble on second down. A review determined that he was trying to throw the ball, making it an incomplete pass, but the turnover soon followed.
Bryant read an outbreaking route on third-and-5 that was intended for redshirt junior Bryce Ford-Wheaton, jumped it and secured the ball as his sideline erupted.
“We knew that we were going to get punched in the mouth in this game,” said redshirt junior linebacker Craig Young. “We just had to punch them back in the mouth and stay on their neck and stay (together) as a team.”
Kansas entered Saturday riding a wave of optimism following its 56-10 dismantling of Football Championship Subdivision opponent Tennessee Tech in the season opener on Sept. 2.
In that game, the Jayhawks had no problem moving the ball or stopping an overmatched team, though players and coaches alike recognized the quality of foe as a caveat.
The difference in talent between the first two weeks’ opponents was obvious from the start on Saturday. Kansas allowed a 59-yard touchdown pass to Sam James just 1:41 in, and when West Virginia doubled down with another touchdown later in the quarter, it seemed as though the Jayhawks were in for a long night.
But senior tight end Mason Fairchild’s 10-yard touchdown catch three seconds into the second quarter was the first of five consecutive touchdown drives between the teams, and Kansas headed into halftime trailing 28-21.
It had the ball first to start the second half an again scored a touchdown, and with the score tied at 28, West Virginia sophomore wide receiver Reece Smith muffed a punt that led to Kansas going ahead 35-28 following a 2-yard touchdown run by redshirt sophomore running back Devin Neal.
Kansas was up 42-31 with 10:59 to play when redshirt sophomore running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. ran 30 yards into the end zone, but West Virginia responded with a field goal, forced the Jayhawks to go three-and-out and then moved within striking range when freshman tight end CJ Donaldson ran 1 yard for a touchdown to make it 42-40 with 35 seconds left.
Ford-Wheaton, who finished with 11 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns, caught the two-point conversion pass to tie the score, but it wasn’t enough.
Kansas finished with 419 yards, including 200 on the ground. Daniels led the Jayhawks with a career-high 85 yards on 12 attempts while Neal had 42 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries, plus the scoring catch, and Hishaw had 63 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Junior Luke Grimm led the wide receivers with six catches for 66 yards. The Jayhawks converted 11 of 15 third downs and endured an uncharacteristic six penalties for 70 yards, including five for 55 in the first half.
West Virginia, which is 0-2 for the first time since 1979, gained 501 yards. JT Daniels went 28-for-40 for 355 yards, three touchdowns and the interception, and the Mountaineers combined for 146 yards on the ground.
Leipold said the overtime win at Texas last season gave the Jayhawks confidence that they could pull off a similar outcome again.
“As we know, this is a group that has been bruised mentally a lot, and they’re starting to gain some confidence and believe in one another and (gain) confidence in the system and how they’re going about it,” he said. “This is one that you sure hope you build upon.”