West Virginia escapes Ames with sixth win

West Virginia's defense has been deservedly maligned all season long, and a pair of drive-extending penalties on a possible game-winning drive showed some reason why.

Inside the 10-yard line, though, Darwin Cook made the day's biggest play that erased the earlier penalties, forcing a Jeff Woody fumble that trickled into the hands of Karl Joseph.

It wasn't easy and certainly wasn't pretty, but the stop helped West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) hold off Iowa State (6-6, 3-6) at Jack Trice Stadium, 31-24. A 75-yard catch-and-run from Tavon Austin, capped by a two-point conversion, gave the game its final margin.

The Cyclones' freshman quarterback Sam Richardson provided a strong effort in his first career start. He took over for Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett in a breakout game against Kansas a week ago and accounted for five touchdowns. Today, he completed 13 of 31 passes for 162 yards and three scores, while also rushing for 119 yards on 18 carries.

Once again, though, Austin's late heroics stole the show. He was contained for much of the game, but returned a punt for a touchdown to take the lead before it was called back because of a flag. Then, his 75-yard touchdown finished the job. He finished with 64 yards on 13 carries, and caught six passes for a game-high 99 yards.

Stedman Bailey also caught seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, his 21st of the season. That's more than Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon had in either of his two award-winning seasons. Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree grabbed 22 scores in his 2007 Biletnikoff season, but Bailey will have one more game this year at home against Kansas next week.

Shawne Alston finally re-emerged after a frustrating thigh bruise that sidelined him for five games, rushing for a season-high 130 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

West Virginia's five-game losing streak is officially over, and the Big 12 now has eight bowl-eligible teams. West Virginia would have liked it to be much prettier, but a disappointing season will still be prolonged with a trip to a bowl game.

Might West Virginia slip to the Pinstripe Bowl and see old rival Pittsburgh in Yankee Stadium? That'd be a whole lot of fun.

Winning in Ames is getting tougher and tougher these days, but the Mountaineers did it to grab a sixth win that surely feels fantastic. When you've lost your last five games and haven't won since Oct. 6, any win feels great, no matter what it takes to get it.

Dana Holgorsen & Co. can surely attest to that.