By Ryan Decker, Originally published for West Virginia Illustrated
It was a redshirt-junior and a junior transfer that stole the show, though.
Marvin Gross Jr. filled the stat sheet, earning his first sack and interception of his career, as well as forcing a fumble on a sack in the second half that turned into seven points. On the other side of the ball for WVU, Justin Crawford rushed for over 200 yards for the second time in three games.
Crawford’s big day running the ball, combined with Gross’ efforts on the defensive side propelled the Mountaineers to a 24-21 victory.
“Happy for our guys… especially for the 21 seniors,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “It’s fitting in a year where we battle and fight and get to 10 wins, we get to it the hardest way possible.”
“Feels good to be 10-2.”
West Virginia managed to score the only points of the first quarter, coming on a 50-yard field goal by Mike Molina, easily the longest made field goal of the year for the redshirt-junior.
Baylor took the lead, though, on the first play of the second, capping off a seven play drive.
Both teams, known for being one of the better passing teams in the conference, ran the ball the majority of plays from scrimmage in the opening quarter. It was a big play on the ground – a 48-yard run by Terrance Williams – that put Baylor in scoring position.
It was also Williams five plays later that put the Bears on top 7-3.
One storyline heading into the game was wondering the crowd’s reaction towards senior quarterback Skyler Howard both before and during the game on his final day at Mountaineer Field.
Although he received possibly the loudest applause of any of the seniors before the game, his slow start to the game brought back some of the same feelings from the crowd that were expressed during the last home game.
Howard started the game just 2-for-11 for 19 yards through the Mountaineers first five drives.
“ ‘Thank you for the opportunity’,” Howard said when asked what he told Holgorsen prior to the game. “ ‘Thank you for giving me a chance and believing in me.’ Because that’s another one of those people that believed in me.”
Baylor, meanwhile, added seven points through the air on a 60-yard strike from freshman quarterback Zach Smith to his top target KD Cannon, putting the Bears ahead 14-3.
West Virginia’s run game helped the Mountaineers narrow the deficit before the half.
Crawford tallied 32 of his 88 first-half yards on WVU’s touchdown-scoring drive late in the second quarter.
It was a pass, though, from Howard, and an incredible catch by a toe-tapping Daikiel Shorts in the back of the end zone, that put the points on the board.
“Oh yeah, I knew I was in. I felt my toe hit before anything else hit,” Shorts said. “It was a good feeling to go out on senior night and get a win, especially against a good Baylor team.”
WVU trailed 14-10 at halftime. With the touchdown, Howard completed just five passes for 30 yards in the first half.
Offenses continued to struggle in the third quarter.
Each of Baylor’s first three third-quarter possessions ended with the Bears punting the ball. Similarly, West Virginia punted twice in the period, and Molina had a second field goal attempt go wide of the mark, missing out on a scoring chance.
Late in the quarter, Gary Jennings broke free of his defender after catching the pass on the slant pattern, turning on the jets and going 58 yards to the house giving WVU a three-point lead.
Baylor’s final possession of the third ended abruptly due to Gross rushing untouched off the edge straight to Smith, sacking him and knocking the ball loose at the same time.
“One of the reasons why we’re able to win is because we’ve got guys continuously able to step up, Marvin gross is a prime example for that that.” Holgorsen said. “Marvin steps in there and plays his tail off. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
The turnover turned into points on a rush by Howard from the goal line to begin the fourth.
Howard finished the game 10-for-26 passing for just 111 yards and two scores.
Crawford, who finished with 209 rushing yards, had nine runs for first downs in the game. With his performance, he became the twenty-fifth Mountaineer to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing in a single season.
“Crawford ran the ball really well,” Holgorsen said.
Baylor drew to within three points with less than three minutes to play on a long pass play from Smith to Ishmael Zamora. The score, though, came too late to help, as neither ensuing onside kick worked.
A fumble by the Bears with 27 seconds remaining – their second of the game – made the win official.
With the win, West Virginia gets its tenth win of the year, the first time accomplishing that feat since 2010. It also finishes with its best record against Big 12 opponents (7-2) since entering the conference.
The loss for Baylor means the Bears will end the season on a six-game losing streak after starting the year 6-0, signifying the worst regular season for the Bears since 2009.
It was announced in the opening seconds of the game that the university and Holgorsen had agreed to a five-year contract extension that will run through the 2021 season. The contract is said to be worth $18.6 million, and will pay him $4 million in the final year of the deal according to Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated.
“I appreciate everything that Shane (Lyons) has done,” Holgorsen said. “I wasn’t worried about it. We just work. And it finally got worked out. I’m excited about that. I’ve been excited about the future for a while.”