- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen watched Morgan Burns terrorize opposing coverage units on film all week long, and he thought his special teams could do enough to quiet the speedy returner.

Perhaps he was being optimistic.

Burns returned a kickoff 97 yards for the go-ahead score Saturday night, wide receiver Kody Cook led Kansas State to a pair of second-half touchdowns as the emergency quarterback, and the Wildcats beat the Mountaineers 24-23 to become bowl-eligible.

“What they do special teams-wise, I’ve never been a part of a game where that really was the difference of the game,” Holgorsen said. “But that’s what Kansas State does, that’s who they are, and that’s how they win games.”

Taking over for the injured Joe Hubener, Cook ran for a touchdown and hit Deante Burton with a 77-yard scoring strike to help the Wildcats (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) win their third straight game.

“When we knocked out their quarterback out, I thought we were in pretty good shape,” Holgorsen said. “Then that kid comes in and does 1,000 times better than the other. I shook Cook’s hand out there and told him that he’s a gutsy kid.”

Wendell Smallwood ran for 141 yards and a touchdown for West Virginia (7-5, 4-5), but he didn’t have the ball in his hands with the game on the line. Instead, quarterback Skyler Howard was stopped by Charmeachealle Moore on fourth-and-2 at the Mountaineers own 46 with 2:33 left, turning over the ball.

The Wildcats picked up enough first downs to essentially run out the clock.

Howard had 281 yards and a touchdown through the air, but it was his inability to pick up the key fourth down on the ground that dropped West Virginia to 0-4 against Kansas State in Big 12 play.

“This one hurts,” Mountaineers wide receiver Jordan Thompson said. “We single-handedly lost. We beat ourselves. I give credit to K-State for capitalizing on the opportunities they had.”

The Wildcats would likely have earned a bowl invite even with a defeat because there are not enough six-win teams to fill all the slots, and a few will be allocated based on Academic Progress Rate. But players said all week that they wanted to reach six wins and truly earn it.

“We all felt strongly about winning this game,” Burns said, “the importance of it.”

It looked like that would be a struggle during a first half dominated by the West Virginia defense, which forced Kansas State to punt on its first three possessions and only surrendered Matt McCrane’s 40-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

Josh Lambert hit a pair of first-half field goals for the Mountaineers - though he also pushed an attempt wide right. But the biggest play in the half came when Howard floated a pass to Jovon Durante in the back of the end zone, the 24-yard strike helping West Virginia to a 13-3 lead at the break.

It was early in the second half that Hubener was crunched by a pair of defenders.

Cook, who has played a handful of games as the emergency QB, entered the fray. He hit Kyle Klein with his first pass attempt before later sneaking in from a yard out for a touchdown.

Kansas State’s defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back, and Cook winged a pass downfield that Burton caught in stride. He out-ran the rest of the defense for a 17-13 lead.

This time, West Virginia answered with a touchdown drive. Smallwood did most of the work, then finished off the march with a 14-yard scamper over the right side.

When Lambert hit his third field goal, the Mountaineers led 23-17 with 13:07 left in the game.

That’s when West Virginia elected once more to kick to Burns, who broke a 67-yard return earlier in the game. The senior started up field, darted to his left and hit the sideline, utilizing a couple of blocks to reach the end zone for a Big 12 record-tying fourth time this season.

The extra point energized a sellout crowd and gave the Wildcats a 24-23 lead.

Their defense made that single point stand up.

“There’s not a senior in our program that’s been involved in a losing season,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. “In my way of thinking, that had to be important to them.”

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