By TOM BRAGG
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Winning on the road in college football is tough, and the West Virginia University football team learned that lesson the hard way during its first road trip of the season.
On Saturday, as the Mountaineers ventured away from Morgantown for the second time, it was clear some lessons had been learned.
WVU battled throughout the game with Kansas in the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams before coming away with a 29-24 win at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
“First road win, proud of our young group,” first-year WVU coach Neal Brown said. “We didn’t play our best but we found a way. That’s what I talked to them about this week — you’ve got to find a way to win on the road. You’ve got to grind it out.”
West Virginia (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) started about as well as it could have hoped for. After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, WVU forced a Kansas three-and-out on the game’s opening possession.
After a punt by KU’s Kyle Thompson, the Mountaineers started their first drive of the game at their own 29-yard line. West Virginia pounded the ball through the Kansas defense on a 13-play, 71-yard drive capped by a 3-yard touchdown run from senior Kennedy McKoy.
The WVU offense did not do much the rest of the opening quarter, but the defense played well and kept the Jayhawks scoreless throughout.
KU (2-2, 0-1) broke thorough early in the second quarter on a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that featured quarterback Carter Stanley slipping through tackle attempts by several WVU defenders and a blown coverage on a third down to keep the drive alive. Stanley finished the drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Kwamie Lassiter.
West Virginia turned the ball over on downs on its next possession, but Kansas gave it right back when Mountaineer defensive lineman Dante Stills knocked the ball from Stanley’s hand and the fumble was recovered by WVU sophomore Josh Chandler.
The Mountaineers, however, failed to turn their good fortune into points on the following drive. Kicker Evan Staley’s 42-yard field goal attempt into the wind had the distance but missed to the right.
KU and WVU traded punts before West Virginia’s two-minute offense went to work. The Mountaineers got the ball with 49 seconds to play in the first half and went 51 yards in nine plays to set up Staley for a 37-yard field goal that bounced off the right upright and went through to send WVU into the break with a 10-7 lead.
West Virginia went back to work when it got the ball to start the third quarter. The Mountaineers slowly moved the ball down the field and into Kansas territory before senior running back Martell Pettaway spun through a tackle at the line of scrimmage and sprinted through the KU secondary for a 23-yard touchdown to put WVU ahead 17-7.
Kansas followed with a long drive of its own. The Jayhawks drove 71 yards on 11 plays, but after the West Virginia defense shut down the KU attack inside the 5-yard line had to settle for a field goal.
Following the field goal, Kansas coach Les Miles elected to attempt an onside kick that did not work out the way he planned. KU recovered the ball, but was called for kick-catch interference on the play, resulting in WVU taking over deep in Jayhawk territory. On the onside kick attempt, the Kansas kicker did not bounce the ball, but rather kicked the ball straight into the air, resulting in the penalty when Kansas players hit the WVU player attempting to field the ball.
Kansas coach Les Miles did not like the ruling from Saturday’s officiating crew.
“If they want to eliminate an exciting play from college football, they should just ban the [onside kick],” Miles said.
WVU went three-and-out on the following drive, but did manage to get some points as Staley hit a 44-yard field goal to make the score 20-10.
Kansas did not waste any time finding the end zone when it got the ball back. Stanley went up top on a play-action pass to Andrew Parchment for a 75-yard touchdown that put the Jayhawks right back into the game.
West Virginia opened the fourth quarter by driving deep into KU’s side of the field. The Mountaineer faced a fourth-and-1 from the Kansas 24-yard line, but the drive was kept alive when Kansas was called for pass interference in the end zone on the play. West Virginia got another Staley field goal out of the drive to increase its lead to 23-17.
Four plays into Kansas’ next drive, WVU senior cornerback Keith Washington made a spectacular play to intercept a Stanley pass and the Mountaineers began to grind on the clock.
“Defensively, it wasn’t our best today,” Brown said. “It wasn’t our best but we found a way. We made enough plays to win there at the end. I thought it was a huge play by Keith Washington — that was the play of the game on the interception. Coming down with that, that killed their momentum.”
Following the interception, West Virginia embarked on an 11-play, 51-yard drive to take more than five minutes off the clock before Pettaway got the ball for a 7-yard touchdown. That score put the Mountaineers ahead 29-17 and sent the Kansas fans scurrying for the exits.
The Jayhawks, however, were not finished. Stanley led KU down the field on a 10-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Parchment to cut West Virginia’s lead to 29-24.
The Mountaineers got the ball back with 2:10 to play and ran out the clock to secure the win.
For the game, WVU quarterback Austin Kendall finished 25 of 37 passing for 202 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
McKoy led West Virginia with 20 rushing attempts for 73 yards with one touchdown, while sophomore Leddie Brown ran for 70 yards on 12 carries. Pettaway had 40 yards on six carries, including his two touchdowns.
For Kansas, Stanley completed 19 of 25 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns and an interception.
The WVU defense did a good job of slowing down Kansas’ high-powered running attack. KU sophomore Pooka Williams finished with 76 yards on 15 carries while senior Khalil Herbert ran for 27 yards on seven attempts.
West Virginia is off next week and returns to action on Oct. 5 when the Mountaineers host Texas at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.
“Going back home on this by week 1-0 in the league and 3-1 in the month of September with the schedule we plays, I think is a successful month,” Brown said.