In another tight November game for the improving Kansas football team, the Jayhawks’ late mistakes kept them from concluding Lance Leipold’s first season as head coach with another upset win.
West Virginia secured two takeaways in the fourth quarter Saturday night at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium and prevailed, 34-28, in the regular-season finale.
A speedy and efficient late-game touchdown drive extended KU’s dreams of ending the season with a win. Jalon Daniels (22-for-32, 249 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) fought for a 3-yard rushing touchdown to cap a five-play scoring drive.
Said Daniels: “When we did hit that last drive and scored, you know, we never lost faith. We never lost faith in each other and we just kept fighting until the end.”
But the onside kick that followed was recovered by WVU, and the Mountaineers were able to run out the clock.
“We tried to read it,” Leipold said of the strategy on the onside try by Jacob Borcila. “You could see they had people lined up all the way across. You’re trying to punch it into some green grass and have it bounce around, so your your guys that are covering are going to sprint past the front line and and be able to recover it. So based on their alignment, we were trying to punch it that way.”
WVU (6-6 overall, 4-5 Big 12) achieved bowl eligibility with the road win
Big fourth-quarter plays by KU sophomore receiver Luke Grimm (four catches, 105 yards), who made a 20-yard catch, and sophomore receiver Trevor Wilson, who ran for 14 yards on a reverse, had the Jayhawks threatening.
However, a 52-yard drive ended with Daniels throwing his first interception of the night in the end zone on first-and-10 at the WVU 10-yard line.
Josh Chandler-Semedo’s timely takeaway — WVU’s first of the night —prevented KU from scoring a TD and making it a 3-point game. Plus, the Mountaineers added a field goal on the ensuing drive to pad their margin to 34-21.
Daniels said after the game when he surveyed the field he saw a safety and a corner on a potential go ball. And the pass he wanted to make to Jared Casey became more difficult when WVU dropped eight defenders into coverage.
“So the linebacker dropped right into Jared Casey,” Daniels said. “I tried to throw it back shoulder, but I threw it inaccurately and the linebacker made a play.”
Chandler-Semedo did it to Daniels again — also in the end zone — in the game’s final minutes, on a desperation fourth-and-11 throw, with the Jayhawks down 13 points.
A pair of fourth-down tries — one for each team — proved critical to the game’s momentum in the third quarter.
Leipold didn’t have to ponder long, when asked what led to the loss in a winnable game.
“We turn it over twice in the red zone. Two fourth-and-1’s we don’t convert,” Leipold said.
The Jayhawks, trailing by 7 with fewer than five minutes left on the third-quarter clock, tried to pick up a fourth-and-1 near midfield. But Daniels couldn’t evade Akheem Mesidor, and the conversion failed.
The Mountaineers responded with a scoring drive and a 38-yard field goal by Casey Legg to make it a 31-21 lead.
The Mountaineers also won a fourth down earlier in the third, when they had the ball and the game was still tied up. That fourth-and-1 — WVU’s second such conversion of the night — extended a drive that would conclude three plays later, when Leddie Brown (156 rushing yards, one TD) broke tackles and took off for a 44-yard rushing touchdown that helped put KU behind, 28-21.
“Opportunities slipped away,” Leipold said. “That’s something where we definitely have to take another step next season.”
After the defenses traded three-and-outs to open the second half, the Jayhawks found some atypical scorers to tie the game at 21 less than three minutes into the third quarter.
Junior linebacker Gavin Potter, who already had delivered a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery for the defense, came through with the first momentous play of the second half when Jarret Doege made a bad decision on the first snap of WVU’s possession. Potter jumped into the passing lane as Doege released the throw, and the linebacker plucked it for an easy 28-yard defensive touchdown.
The pick-six cut the WVU lead to two, so Leipold and KU decided to go for two points and the tie. That’s when Daniels had an unlikely target — senior left tackle Earl Bostick Jr. — open to his left in the backfield. Daniels threw a quick lateral to the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Bostick, who nimbly did the rest of the work, running 10 yards untouched across the goal line to tie the game with 12:36 left in the third quarter.
Said Daniels after his third start in a row: “Definitely we love to be able to compete, especially late in the game. We didn't get the outcome that we wanted, but I just love that amount of fight that the guys showed, no matter what the scoreboard was.”
A three-and-out for the KU offense late in the second quarter meant KU had to punt for the first time. Even worse for the home team, it allowed WVU to get back out on the field before halftime and add to its lead. The Mountaineers needed just 1:23 to go 59 yards, and Doege threw his third TD pass of the night to help WVU take a 21-13 lead into intermission.
The Jayhawks were down 14-6 before they got into the end zone for the first time versus the Mountaineers.
Grimm recovered an offensive fumble on a scoring drive for the second time in the first half to avoid a disaster. Then Amauri Pesek-Hickson, who started in place of the injured Devin Neal, busted a 20-yard run. Daniels’ completion to Grimm for 36 yards pushed KU into the red zone.
KU got its first TD of the night midway through the second quarter, when Daniels found walk-on tight end Casey wide open for an 8-yard TD, and the Jayhawks made it a 14-13 game in WVU’s favor.
WVU converted a fourth-and-1 at midfield on its third possession of the night, which began in the final minutes of the first quarter. The gamble paid off in the form of a 4-yard run by Brown, and the Mountaineers continued on a methodical TD drive.
Doege and Winston Wright connected for a TD for the second time in the first half to conclude a 14-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 6:59, and the Jayhawks trailed 14-6.
Junior safety and team leader Kenny Logan Jr., who finished with 14 total tackles, said the Jayhawks didn’t do quite enough to win.
“We’ve just got to finish. When we’ve got plays handled, we’ve got to execute on all the little things. And just finish the game,” Logan said. “And that's going to get us the W’s that we're looking for.”
With one empty trip to the red zone behind them, the Jayhawks didn’t want to open the night 0-for-2 inside the 20-yard line. Their third possession of the game wouldn’t have gotten within striking distance without a 40-yard bomb down the middle of the field from Daniels to Grimm, who out-jumped and out-muscled a pair of defensive backs for a highlight-reel grab.
Jacob Borcila drilled his second field goal of the night, this one from 35 yards out, as KU cut the WVU lead to 7-6 with 2:09 left in the first quarter.
After a one-play opening series that was over as quickly as it started via a lost fumble, the Mountaineers fared far better on their second possession. With Doege completing passes of 38 and 21 yards on consecutive snaps, it only took WVU six plays to cover 84 yards and take the lead.
The redshirt senior QB had all sorts of time on WVU’s first third down of the night, too, and he found Wright for a 14-yard touchdown, helping the visitors move ahead, 7-3.
The Jayhawks had a chance to go up two scores before WVU even ran two plays in the finale. A fumble by Brown on the Mountaineers’ first play from scrimmage allowed the home team to take over at the visitors’ 24-yard line, after Potter recovered the loose ball on the turf.
Despite a short field and a series that began with a 13-yard run by Pesek-Hickson, though, WVU kept KU out of the end zone and off the scoreboard. The Jayhawks, up 3-0 at the time, decided to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the 4-yard line. But Daniels couldn’t escape a pair of defenders who were in dead sprints, and the QB was sacked for a 12-yard loss.
KU had somewhat better fortune on the game’s opening drive, after winning the coin toss and opting to receive the kickoff. Though super-senior receiver Kwamie Lassiter II fumbled the ball after making a catch for a first down, Grimm was nearby and secured the recovery to keep the Jayhawks on the field.
What at first appeared to be another first down, on a snag by Casey, got overturned after review, and the Jayhawks opted for a field goal after Grimm was stopped short on a third-down catch.
Borcila hit his first attempt of the night from 46 yards out, to give KU an early 3-0 advantage.
KU finished Leipold’s first season in charge with a 2-10 record overall and a 1-8 mark in the Big 12.
The coach said he told the Jayhawks after their season-ending defeat that the game came down to “a handful of plays,” and that he was proud of the team and its seniors.
“Upon arrival here, it was said to me about games being over very quickly, about possible question of effort level, sticking together, things like that,” Leipold said of the program’s reputation.
“I wasn't here. I don't know that for sure. But I know I never questioned our effort level in games, and watched the resiliency of this team continue to compete to the very end here tonight.”
SCORING BY QUARTERS
11:16 - Jacob Borcila 46 field goal. Eight-play drive for 47 yards, in 3:37. (KU 3, WVU 0.)
5:29 — Winston Wright 14 pass from Jarret Doege. Casey Legg kick. Six-play drive for 84 yards, in 2:50. (WVU 7, KU 3.)
2:09 — Borcila 35 field goal. Eight-play drive for 61 yards, in 3:13. (WVU 7, KU 6.)
10:06 — Wright 14 pass from Doege. Legg kick. Fourteen-play drive for 75 yards, in 6:59. (WVU 14, KU 6.)
7:26 — Jared Casey 8 pass from Jalon Daniels. Borcila kick. Five-play drive for 65 yards, in 2:41. (WVU 14, KU 13.)
0:17 — Sam James 7 pass from Doege. Legg kick. Six-play drive for 59 yards, in 1:23. (WVU 21, KU 13.)
12:36 — Gavin Potter 28 interception. Earl Bostick Jr. run. (WVU 21, KU 21.)
8:35 — Leddie Brown 44 run. Legg kick. Nine-play drive for 75 yards, in 3:58. (WVU 28, KU 21.)
0:21 — Legg 38 field goal. Nine-play drive for 30 yards, in 4:11. (WVU 31, KU 21.)
5:54 — Legg 37 field goal. Nine-play drive for 60 yards, in 4:39. (WVU 34, KU 21.)
1:46 — Daniels 3 run. Borcila kick. Five-play drive for 68 yards, in 1:02. (WVU 34, KU 28.)