The Mountaineers defeat the Arizona State Wildcats 43 – 42
After a season of ups and downs, WVU football defied the odds and made it to the 2016 Cactus Bowl. With 2:19 left in the fourth quarter, Skyler Howard threw a 15-yard pass to David Sills to get the victory over Arizona State.
Howard’s arm was able to dominate most of the game, throwing against one of the worst pass defenses in college football. Of the 672-yards gained from WVU’s passing game, 532 of those yards came directly from Howard. His performance on Saturday allowed him to achieve the second-best passing yardage in the Mountaineer football program history, falling short of Geno Smith with 656-passing yards.
The Sun Devils were up for most of the game, and during the fourth quarter, completed a 52-yard touchdown with a pass connection between ASU QB Mike Bercovici and WR Gary Chambers. The touchdown brought the Sun Devils back into the lead. In a move that ASU head coach, Todd Graham, would later call a mistake, Arizona State kicked a field goal, rather than going for the 2-point conversion. This allowed WVU the opportunity to close the game with a 1-point victory.
Shelton Gibson closed the game as the top receiver with 143-yards under his belt. Closely following Gibson were Ka’Raun White with 116-yards and Daikiel Shorts with 97-yards. Wendell Smallwood, who has been toping charts all season, once again led the Mountaineer rushers by carrying the ball 13 times for a total of 72 yards. Smallwood will close the season with 1,519 rushing yards, topping all WVU backs since Steve Slaton in 2006 with 1,744-yards.
Though at times fans questioned whether Howard was qualified for the job, he managed to close the season with a winning season, a win at the Cactus Bowl, and with the 5th most passing yards of any West Virginia quarterback in the history of the program.
Howard completed 221 of 403 passes for 3,145=passing yards and a total of 24 touchdowns. Though the 14 interceptions on the season is lack-luster, Howard effectively led his team through a rough October schedule, into recovery as they went on a 4-game winning streak in November, and ultimately to defeat the Sun Devils in the Cactus Bowl.