MANHATTAN — Chris Klieman bristled at the notion that his Kansas State Wildcats might have overlooked West Virginia.
Then again, they really didn’t see this coming.
West Virginia, a loser of five straight coming in, simply made enough big plays on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter to upset K-State, 24-20, Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“If you play your tail off and practice your tail off, you may not win all the time,” Klieman said. “I’m not, and I never will be, one of those guys where you say, you can chalk this one up as a victory, we’ll probably lose that one.
“Every week you’re going to get everybody’s best shot. This is a really good league and everybody can beat everybody.”
West Virginia, which improved to 4-6 overall and 2-5 in the Big 12, got it done by outscoring the Wildcats (6-4, 3-4) 10-0 in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers were 14-point underdogs.
Even so, K-State had a shot at the end, even if it meant driving 92 yards in 2 minutes, 53 seconds. Quarterback Skylar Thompson moved the Wildcats down the field with five first downs, including a fourth-down conversion to keep the drive alive.
But on second and 8 from the West Virginia 30, he threw deep down the middle for Dalton Schoen near the end zone, only to have Mountaineers cornerback Hakeem Bailey go high in the air to pick if off with 28 seconds left.
“I wish I could have it back,” said Thompson, who completed 24 of 39 passes for a career-high 299 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice. “I know I can make that throw. I’ve made it plenty of times.”
Schoen, who hooked up with Thompson for a 68-yard touchdowns on the Wildcats’ first offensive play, agreed.
“Skylar said, ‘I make that throw 10 out of 10 times.’ You’ve just got to put a little more on it, but at the same time, I could have run my route a little bit better, I’ve got to break up that ball,” Schoen said. “But you’re right there. We put together that tough two-minute drive. We started at the 8 or something like that, drove it down the field and we were in a position to win the game. You’ve just got to go do it.”
That the Wildcats were in that position to begin with was largely the consequence of a major defensive breakdown early in the period.
After West Virginia pulled within three on Casey Legg’s 51-yard field goal with 14:07 left — he had missed twice from shorter distance in the first half — the Mountaineers forced a three-and-out and took possession again at their own 47 following a short punt.
But after a pass play to the K-State 38, a sack and a penalty left West Virginia at midfield with a third-and-22 situation. Jarret Doege escaped the pressure up the middle, scrambled to his left and threw downfield to a wide-open Bryce Wheaton for the 50-yard touchdown.
“I was thinking just get through my progression, but I was forced out of the pocket and saw Bryce just standing there wide open,” said Doege, a redshirt candidate making his first start after transferring from Bowling Green. “Fortunately I was able to get it off before I got hit.
“I didn’t know exactly if he caught it or what happened until I looked up and he was in the end zone.”
Klieman said he did not see the whole play unfold, but acknowledge that it was “a blown coverage.”
K-State, which trailed 14-13 at intermission, had immediately regained the lead after taking the second-half kickoff and marching 70 yards in 13 plays, a drive that ate up 7 minutes, 4 seconds. James Gilbert, who had missed the previous two games with an ankle injury, got the touchdown on a 3-yard option play to the left side and also caught two passes for 20 yards on the drive.
The score was set up by a 16-yard, third-down completion from Thompson to Schoen that made it first and goal at the 5.
While the Wildcats moved the ball effectively through the air, they rushed for just 122 yards on the ground against a West Virginia run defense that ranks ninth in the Big 12. Gilbert finished with 60 yards on 13 carries and Jordon Brown with 23 on seven attempts. Thompson was sacked twice.
Injuries to Gilbert and Jordon Brown have slowed the running attack in recent weeks, but Klieman didn’t make any excuses.
“So what, now what? If they’re banged up, we’re banged up,” he said. “Somebody’s got to step up and make the play.
“We weren’t able to sustain the running game and have a good enough running game to get us into second-and-shorts and stuff. We had the one explosive play to start the game, which was a great play design, but we have to find some more explosive plays.”
The Wildcats finished with 421 yards total offense to 319 for West Virginia, but the Mountaineers did not turn the ball over.
Doege completed 20 of 30 passes for 234 yards. The Mountaineers rushed for 84 yards with Leddie Brown gaining 62 on 13 carries and Kennedy McKoy 34 on five attempts.
For the second straight week, K-State got off to a dream start with an early touchdown.
After the Wildcats’ defense got a three-and-out, Thompson hit a wide-open Schoen in stride down the middle for a 68-yard touchdown.
West Virginia immediately came back with a 75-yard drive, capped by a 19-yard scoring pass from Doege to George Campbell.
K-State took a 10-7 lead on Blake Lynch’s 22-yard field goal, and the Wildcats appeared to be off the hook the next drive when Legg missed a 41-yard field goal. But a personal foul on the Wildcats’ Trey Dishon kept the drive alive and the Mountaineers went up 14-10 when Doege again hooked up with Campbell, this time for 15 yards.