MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — One of the longest road trips of No. 19 Kansas State’s Big 12 season might as well have been a home game for quarterback Will Howard.
Howard threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, Cincere Mason returned an interception for a TD and the Wildcats moved closer to a Big 12 championship game spot by beating West Virginia 48-31 on Saturday.
Playing in West Virginia was as close as Howard can get to his hometown of Downingtown, about 280 miles (451 kilometers) from Morgantown in eastern Pennsylvania. Howard said about 30 relatives and friends cheered him on.
“I was thrilled to play for them,” Howard said. “Just looking up and being able to see them all feels good.”
Kansas State (8-3, 6-2 Big 12, No. 15 CFP) can secure a spot in the title game on Dec. 3 with a win in Saturday’s regular-season finale at home to Kansas or with a title game alongside No. 4 TCU Texas lost to Baylor on Friday.
Howard said coach Chris Klieman told the team in the locker room to first take some time to enjoy the win over the Mountaineers.
“We’re going to enjoy this one today and have fun on the flight home,” Howard said. “We know it’s our process mindset every week: one day at a time. We know we have a big one next week. But we will think about that tomorrow.”
West Virginia (4-7, 2-6) failed to qualify for the Bowl for the second time under fourth-year coach Neal Brown and only the fourth time since 2000.
Both teams’ quarterbacks played well in a battle between the backups.
Howard, starting in place of the injured Adrian Martinez, completed 19 of 27 passes for 294 yards.
“Will is a seasoned veteran now,” Klieman said. “I couldn’t be happier for the guy because he worked his ass off.”
West Virginia’s Garrett Greene, who won the bid ahead of JT Daniels, threw three TD passes to Sam James and completed 15 of 27 passes for 204 yards. He was intercepted twice. Greene also scored on a 13-yard run.
“Garrett has done some good things,” Brown said. “He ran around and made some good decisions, made some bad decisions. That will happen when you are in your first career start.”
Kansas State led 28-19 after the first quarter. Mason’s 37-yard interception return gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead after just over 3 minutes. Later in the quarter, West Virginia’s Malachi Ruffin returned an interception 43 yards for a score. But West Virginia failed to make a comeback.
At halftime, Kansas State had 312 total yards and was leading 41-25. It was the Wildcats’ highest-scoring first half since 45 against Montana State in 2008 and West Virginia’s most-allowed since they allowed 56 against Baylor in 2013.
Kansas State could move up a spot or two in the AP Top 25 poll.
THE TAKE AWAY
Kansas State: The Wildcats have won three of their last four. Behind Howard, Kansas State tied its biggest performance of the season against the league-worst-scoring defense to improve to 4-1 away.
West Virginia: There were about 23,000 empty seats at the stadium, and it’s up to the school to decide if it was the last home game for Brown, who has a 21-25 record with four years left on the contract. Sporting director Shane Lyons was sacked last Monday and WVU president Gordon Gee said no further changes are being considered until a new sporting director is hired in the next few weeks.
Kansas State hosts Kansas next Saturday. The Wildcats have won the Sunflower Showdown 13 times in a row.
West Virginia plays at No. 24 Oklahoma State next Saturday.
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