By Ryan Decker, Originally published for West Virginia Illustrated
MORGANTOWN – West Virginia (2-0) went into its Week 2 matchup against ranked FCS opponent Youngstown State.
Like a number of the nation’s top teams, the Mountaineers struggled to put points on the board early on and went into halftime tied with the Penguins, leaving WVU fans stunned and clearing out a good portion of the student section.
Three-straight scoring drives to begin the third quarter turned the game around for the Mountaineers, who went on to win 38-21.
“Our guys didn’t panic when it was close,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I learned a long time ago to not take wins for granted.
“I’m glad to get out of here with a victory.”
Both offenses sputtered early.
West Virginia turned the ball over the first time it had the ball, and after that the two teams traded punts for the next three combined possessions. It was the Mountaineers, though, that got on the board first.
Skyler Howard, batting a rib injury, was able to shake off a few hits before dropping a long pass right into the hands of Ka’Raun White for a 53-yard touchdown.
The score marked the first of White’s career.
West Virginia’s defense, which held the Penguins to just 47 yards of offense their first two possessions, thought it had a turnover of its own on a Rasul Douglas interception late in the first quarter. A holding penalty on Douglas negated the turnover, and Ricky Davis completed a 22-yard pass on the next play to put Youngstown State in scoring position.
YSU converted on the good fortune.
An off-balanced shovel pass gained 15 yards, and two plays later, Martin Ruiz punched it in from one yard out to tie the game 7-7.
The Penguins found the end zone on their next possession, as well, needing just three plays to do so.
Davis connected on a long pass to Alvin Bailey, who broke a tackle near the 35-yard line and went the rest way to put Youngstown State out in front.
Later in the quarter, it was a pass interference call against the Penguins that helped the Mountaineer offense stay on the field. The result for WVU was similar to the penalty against the Mountaineer defense earlier that result in a YSU score.
After Rushel Shell converted on third down with a short run, Howard threw overtop of the defense to a streaking Shelton Gibson who went untouched 54 yards for the game-tying score.
“Getting good five-yard runs, six-yard runs, those are just as good as 20-yard runs,” Shell said. “The safeties will have to roll down in the box and that’s when you let the speedsters run.”
West Virginia moved the ball effectively down field with under one minute to go in the opening half, but Mike Molina missed a 30-yard field goal attempt as time expired, keeping the score tied at 14 apiece heading into the break.
“I think the biggest thing we did at half time was go in there, take a breath and not panic,” Holgorsen said.
The Mountaineers began to pull away at the start of the third quarter.
Howard completed a pair of lofty throws along the left side of the field, the first to Gibson for 45 yards, and then, six plays later on third down, he completed a pass to Daikiel Shorts in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
“The deep ball was there more now,” Holgorsen said of Howard’s deep passing abilities. “The deep ball has always been there. I’m happy with his development.”
Howard ended the game 20 for 33 passing for 389 yards.
A field goal was the result of WVU’s next drive, though the Mountaineers left points on the field as they were well-inside the red zone and a holding penalty negated what would’ve been a Shell touchdown run.
Mountaineers led 24-14 with 2:50 remaining in the third.
Next time out for the WVU offense, Howard found Gibson once again on the left side for a touchdown, Gibson’s second scoring catch of the day. Gibson finished with six catches for 171 receiving yards.
“Just knowing you’re a big play guy, so knowing when your time comes; your name gets called just go get it,” Gibson said.
After the game, Gibson said that early on in the game he heard Youngstown St. coaches yelling for the safeties to, “Cheat it, cheat it, cheat it. So I went to the sideline and told coach Holgorsen, ‘They’re playing me press. They’re bringing the safety down. Let’s take it deep.’”
While the WVU offense was finding its rhythm, the defense began anchoring down. Youngstown State only managed to earn 68 yards of offense in the third quarter, punting three times.
West Virginia’s offense gained 223 yards during the same period.
Following the Penguins back-to-back scores in the second quarter, Youngstown State punted on each of its next six possessions.
That streak ended with a 15-yard scoring run by Trent Hosick to pull the Penguins back to within 10 points, 31-21. Hosick’s run capped off a nine-play drive.
West Virginia responded with a touchdown as Howard found a wide open Kennedy McKoy along the far sideline, who, after making the catch, was able to waltz easily into the end zone.
For Howard, the pass matched a career high in touchdown passes with five, and it also marked McKoy’s first career score.
West Virginia is off next week, and plays Brigham Young University Sept. 24 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.