By Ryan Decker, Originally written for West Virginia Illustrated
Not often do you see a redshirt freshman have his redshirt status removed in the eleventh game of his team’s season. Even less often do you see that freshman have a huge impact on the game, seeing his first action of his collegiate career.
Martell Pettaway showed Saturday afternoon he’s not like most freshman.
Facing an early three-point deficit, Ka’Raun White put the Mountaineers (9-2) out in front, catching a pass on a slant route and turning up field for the 34-yard score.
On the ensuing series for Iowa State, WVU’s leading tackler Justin Arndt, split the gap between two offensive linemen, and forced Cyclone running back Mike Warren to fumble. The Mountaineers recovered the ball near midfield.
The turnover quickly turned into points.
Skyler Howard completed a 50-yard pass to Shelton Gibson, who was fully extended as he dove to make the catch. Kennedy McKoy barreled his way into the end zone for the touchdown two plays later, putting WVU ahead 14-3.
Iowa State answered the big play by West Virginia with a big play of its own, as Kene Nwangwu returned the kickoff 97 yards to pull the Cyclones back to within four points.
Had it not been for a chase-down tackle by Jeremy Tyler on the 10-yard line, ISU would’ve taken the lead late in the first quarter on what was a 67-yard catch and run by Allen Lazard. West Virginia’s defense buckled down, forcing Cole Netten to kick a short field goal.
WVU led 14-13 after a back and forth first quarter.
It was during the first quarter that Justin Crawford, who got the start at running back for WVU, suffered a lower-body injury. He being sidelined for the rest of the game forced McKoy into the lead back role, and forced the coaching staff to yank the redshirt classification off the freshman Pettaway.
McKoy didn’t remain on the field much longer, making Pettaway the last back remaining.
Pettaway had an immediate impact, tallying 12 rushes for 91 yards in his first half of collegiate play. Those totals could’ve been increased had it not been for multiple WVU penalties.
He became the second WVU running back this season to rush for over 100 yards in his first game as a Mountaineer, joining Crawford in the feat.
It was another freshman, though, that increased the Mountaineers lead.
Howard connected with wide out Marcus Simms on a 48-yard strike, good enough for six points and Simms’ first touchdown of his career.
Injuries began piling up in the first half for West Virginia, as multiple players needed attention from the medical staff, including Arndt, Jarrod Harper, and both White brothers, these all on top of the injury to Crawford and McKoy.
Despite the nicks and bruises, WVU led 21-16 at the half.
West Virginia added to its lead early in the third quarter on yet another big play.
Gibson blew past the corner in coverage, and Howard dropped a perfect pass right in his hands for a 71-yard scoring play. It was the QB’s third passing touchdown of the game to the third different receiver.
Netten kicked field goals in each of the first three quarters, trying the keep Iowa State within striking distance, kicking a total of four on the day. However, this was during a stretch of nine consecutive drives by the Cyclones in which they got inside WVU territory.
They would get inside WVU territory twice more, each time turning over the football.
In the game, West Virginia scored 21 of its points off four Iowa State turnovers, turning three in touchdowns, including on consecutive drives in the third quarter.
Pettaway’s aforementioned touchdown run capped off an eight play, 86 yard drive, and gave West Virginia a 35-19 lead in the third.
WVU scored again on its next drive as the offense continued to improve, as the game went on. A pair of 20-plus yard plays by Pettaway set up the Mountaineers in good field position, and the drive ended with a bang – a 40-yard touchdown pass from Howard to Gibson.
Gibson caught just three passes for 161 yards and the two scores.
Howard, who passed for a total of 330 yards on the day, moved into sixth place in WVU history in single-season passing yards at 3,083. He also moved up in the WVU ranks in single-season completions (seventh/220), touchdown passes (T-5/24), and total offense (sixth/3,457 yds).
Rasul Douglas came down with interception number eight in the fourth quarter, tying him for the lead in the nation in that stat. It also moves him just two behind tying Aaron Beasley’s school record of 10 passes he picked off in 1994.
The win marks the most wins against conference opponents (six) for WVU since joining the Big 12. It also marks the most wins in a season for head coach Dana Holgorsen.
West Virginia finishes its season next weekend at home against Baylor on Dec. 3. Kickoff for that game is set for 3:30 p.m.