No. 23 West Virginia survives frantic Baylor comeback bid

No. 23 West Virginia survives frantic Baylor comeback bid

WACO, Texas -- West Virginia let a 25-point lead dissolve to almost nothing, but still avoided overtime versus Baylor.

Quarterback Will Grier passed for 375 yards and five touchdowns and the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers came up with a crucial late defensive play to hold off Baylor 38-36 on Saturday at McLane Stadium.

Baylor backup quarterback Charlie Brewer passed for 109 yards and two touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter as he led a phenomenal comeback that came up just short.

Brewer hit running back Trestan Ebner for a 9-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left, bringing the Bears (0-7, 0-4 Big 12) within a two-point conversion of the Mountaineers.

But West Virginia linebacker Xavier Preston sacked Brewer on the two-point attempt, preserving the win for West Virginia (5-2, 3-1).

Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen took issue with the officiating, attributing Baylor’s comeback in part to no-calls on holding penalties late in the game. But the West Virginia coach seemed relieved that it didn’t matter on Preston’s sack.

“We had a hard time getting off what I thought was multiple holding calls in the fourth quarter,” Holgorsen said. “On that play we did. We sacked him and preserved the lead.”

West Virginia wide receivers David Sills and Gary Jennings led the way in running mostly unchecked through the Baylor secondary for the first three quarters as each surpassed 100 yards receiving.

Sills caught seven passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns.

Jennings, who caught eight passes for 116 yards, didn’t score. But his 51-yard reception late in the third quarter set up Grier’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Ka’Raun White that set the Mountaineers cruising with a 38-13 lead.

Baylor quarterback Zach Smith completed 16 of 27 passes for 261 yards with no interceptions in three quarters. But he was also sacked five times, which was why Rhule said he pulled the starting QB.

“I didn’t want him to continue to stay in there and take a beating,” Rhule said. “One thing that Charlie brings to the table is the ability to run. It kind of got us going in the run game with some quarterback reads. I think we saw what Charlie brings to the table and the job that he did. We ended up just one play from doing it.”

Brewer took over in the fourth quarter and ignited the Baylor offense by throwing a 52-yard touchdown pass on his first throw. His TD pass to Ebner cut West Virginia’s lead to 18 points with 14:31 left.

Baylor followed that touchdown by recovering an onside kick and kept the momentum going when Ebner took a handoff and burst into the open for a 40-yard touchdown.

The Bears whittled West Virginia’s lead to eight points when kicker Connor Martin booted a 23-yard field goal with 6:07 remaining, setting up the wild finish.

Holgorsen said he was glad his team staved off the comeback, a week after the Mountaineers came from 18 points behind to defeat Texas Tech. But he doesn’t want to see the same script again soon.

“When we have an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter, it needs to remain an 18-point lead,” Holgorsen said. “We went three-and-out twice and they gained a possession on a special teams play.”

For the first three quarters, it appeared the Mountaineers’ passing game would pave the way for an easy win.

Grier went over the top of the Baylor defense for the Mountaineers’ first touchdown. He found Sills in the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown as Sills went up and grabbed the pass over the outstretched arms of Baylor cornerback Harrison Hand.

Sills’ touchdown reception gave West Virginia a 10-0 lead with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.

“I thought Will Grier was sensational, I thought David Sills, Gary Jennings were sensational and they did a nice job making big plays,” Rhule said.

But Baylor responded by driving for a pair of field goals in the second quarter.

The Bears benefitted from two 15-yard penalties on the West Virginia defense that helped Baylor move in for kicker Connor Martin’s 23-yard field goal and Baylor’s initial points.

Then, on the Bears’ next possession, Smith connected with Denzel Mims for a 45-yard gain to the Mountaineers’ 25 to set up Martin’s 42-yard field goal. Martin’s second made kick of the second quarter cut West Virginia’s lead to 10-6 with 4:08 remaining until halftime.

However, West Virginia offset Baylor’s push when Grier orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final 1:05 of the first half.

The Mountaineers quarterback threw to Sills again, this time over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown with one second left before the break.

Sills caught six passes for 83 yards in the first 30 minutes and his second touchdown of the half put West Virginia ahead 17-6 at halftime.

NOTES: Entering Saturday’s game, Baylor had not won a regular-season game in more than a year. The Bears defeated Kansas on Oct. 15, 2016, then lost their final six regular-season games. Baylor won the Cactus Bowl over Boise State in late December, but then lost its first six games of this season. ... The home team prevailed in all five Baylor-West Virginia contests going into Saturday’s game. The Mountaineers held a 3-2 edge in the series, which began when West Virginia joined the Big 12. ... West Virginia has been in and out of the national rankings almost every other week this season. The Mountaineers have fallen out of the rankings after their two losses, but got back in for the third time at No. 23 this week after a 46-35 victory over Texas Tech last week.