West Virginia slips by Baylor 43-40 for first Big 12 win

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This time, West Virginia didn’t stumble down the stretch, and as a result the Mountaineers are no longer winless in Big 12 play.

Casey Legg’s 22-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining broke a tie and the Mountaineers prevented Baylor from moving the ball with limited time on their final series, allowing West Virginia to prevail 43-40 on Thursday night before 45,293 at Milan Puskar Stadium.

“I really felt like it was going to come down to three things,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “Turnover margin, which we won, who could establish the run game, which we did, and then scoring touchdowns in the red zone, which we did good enough. I’m proud of our group. We overcame adversity. I said this after the Virginia Tech game, but the demise of this team is kind of getting ahead of itself. We’ve won three of four. This league is going to be wide open.”

Legg’s game-winning kick was set up by Tony Mathis’ 37-yard run to the Baylor 8.

Although less than 1 minute remained at that point, the Bears prevented Mathis from reaching the end zone on three straight runs inside the 10, the last two of which he was brought down behind the line of scrimmage. Legg then came on and calmly delivered his 10th made field goal on as many attempts through the first half of the season.

“I have the same routine every time the offense gets the ball past the 50,” Legg said. “I was trying to stick with it, but I was wondering what my mom was doing in the stands. I expected an opportunity to kick. I was just trying to get prepared.”

Without a timeout, Baylor got the ball back at its 23 with 27 seconds remaining. The Bears gained 7 yards over their first three plays before the game ended on backup quarterback Kyron Drones’ 17-yard run.

Drones replaced starter Blake Shapen, who was shaken up on a red zone run during a third quarter play in which he was hit by WVU cornerback Andrew Wilson-Lamp, who was ejected for targeting.

“Shapen is a good player. I hope he’s OK,” Brown said. “You hate to see those type of plays.”

At that point, the game was tied at 24, though on the fourth play after he entered, Drones found Hal Presley for a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal that allowed Baylor (3-3, 1-2) to lead 31-24 at the 5:21 mark of the third.

The Mountaineers (3-3, 1-2) answered with a 75-yard drive and pulled even on Justin Johnson’s 19-yard TD run off a delayed draw, which came one play after JT Daniels’ 11-yard pass to Sam James on third-and-8.

On his first full drive, Drones led the Bears to a touchdown, completing four straight passes to set up Qualan Jones’ go-ahead 4-yard TD run with 13:39 remaining.

A key play ensued on the point-after attempt, which John Mayers had blocked by Dante Stills, and the Mountaineers’ Jacolby Spells came up with the recovery and an 87-yard return that created a four-point deficit instead of seven.

“I told our guys we were going to make a play on special teams,” Brown said. “Field goal block team says a lot about your football team. A lot of times it’s after a score and everybody is down, but if kids are bought in, they’ll play hard. That’s a huge play in the game. Every play matters.”

After Mathis was stopped on fourth-and-1 from just across midfield on WVU’s ensuing series, Baylor was in position to go up two scores and take complete control until Jones fumbled and Jasir Cox recovered at the Mountaineers’ 28.

Six plays later, Mathis broke off a 34-yard touchdown run that put WVU ahead 40-37 with 7:06 to play.

“The coaches helped me all bye week to be decisive. I’m a better runner when I’m decisive and my shoulders are squared,” Mathis said. 

Baylor moved into the red zone on its next series, but as he was pressured by Jared Bartlett, Drones lofted a pass that was intercepted by Aubrey Burks, allowing West Virginia to take over at its 19 with 3:19 remaining.

A false start penalty immediately followed, and on first-and-15, Daniels threw an ill-advised pass toward Bryce Ford-Wheaton that Baylor’s Dillon Doyle picked off.

Despite starting at the WVU 26, Baylor was unable to move forward and settled for Mayers’ tying 44-yard field goal with 1:40 left.

“We had a turnover and they kicked a field goal. That’s really productive and we’ll grow from that,” Brown said.

The Mountaineers then went 61 yards for their winning drive, getting 49 yards from Mathis, who finished with a game-high 163 rushing yards and two TDs on 22 attempts. The other 12 yards came on Daniels’ pass to Kaden Prather.

“No pressure at all. We do a lot of scenarios like that in practice, so we were prepared for it,” Prather said.

In what was the third 100-yard performance of his college career, Mathis set a new career high for rushing, stepping up in the absence of CJ Donaldson.

“Every big run came from the wideouts blocking so definitely credit them,” Mathis said. 

After forcing a three-and-out to start the game, West Virginia went ahead with a 65-yard drive that Mathis capped with his 7-yard TD run at the 10:30 mark of the opening quarter.

Mayers’ 40-yard field goal brought the Bears to within 7-3, and after forcing a punt, Baylor gained its first lead when Ben Sims reached pay dirt on a 1-yard run that marked the tight end’s first carry this season.

The Mountaineers were forced to punt again and their struggles with pass defense continued when the Bears got three Shapen completions for 65 yards, the last of which was a 35-yard touchdown to Gavin Holmes, giving the visitors a 17-7 lead 10:52 before halftime.

Legg’s 23-yard field goal made it a one possession game again, and one play after allowing Holmes to bring in a 46-yard pass, West Virginia got even when Shapen’s fumble was recovered by Cox, who raced 65 yards to the end zone for the team’s second defensive touchdown in three games.

“It was more so a routine play for me to secure the ball and I saw daylight and just ran with it,” Cox said.

Shapen didn’t let the turnover linger, and instead found Craig Williams on a 39-yard touchdown pass, with most of the damage coming after the catch, giving Baylor a 24-17 lead it took into halftime.

Daniels’ 24-yard touchdown pass to Prather on the opening drive of the second half enabled West Virginia to tie it at 24.

Prather had a team-high eight receptions for 109 yards.

“He’s going to be as good as he wants to be,” Brown said. “He’s growing up before our eyes.”

Daniels hit on 24-of-37 passes for 283 yards.

Despite coming out for good on the Bears’ opening drive of the second half, Shapen threw for 326 yards while completing 14-of-22 passes. Drones was 7-of-14 for 95 yards.

Holmes had a memorable effort with seven grabs for 210 yards.

Baylor finished with 169 rushing yards on 35 carries.

“If you continue to do the right thing and treat people the right way and work as hard as you can, both staff and players, eventually good things are going to happen,” Brown said. “I’ve believed all year we have a good football team.”

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