AMES, Iowa - Just when it looked like West Virginia's sixth straight defeat was going to be pinned on its defense, that group rose up when it mattered most.
It was enough to allow defensive coordinator Joe DeForest to sit down in a chair afterward, slip on the same ballcap he's worn after each of the Mountaineers' most recent losses and let out a sigh of relief.
"Relax,'' he said, echoing the one word across the front of that white hat with a broad grin spreading across his face. "Finally, it paid off.''
Well, barely. But at this point West Virginia will take it.
Safety Darwin Cook, injured and benched for much of the last month, forced a fumble as Iowa State was on the cusp of scoring the tying touchdown, Karl Joseph recovered in the end zone and the Mountaineers held on for a 31-24 win over the Cyclones Saturday at frigid Jack Trice Stadium.
The win not only enabled West Virginia to snap a five-game losing streak that dated to Oct. 6, it allowed the Mountaineers (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) to finally become bowl eligible. If nothing else, it is assured that WVU's season won't end with next Saturday's home finale against Kansas.
Iowa State finished its regular season at 6-6 overall and 3-6 in the Big 12. The Cyclones earned bowl eligibility a week ago by beating Kansas.
In the end it was because West Virginia made the one or two plays that had been lacking of late in close losses to TCU and Oklahoma. The fumble on the goal line was the biggest.
"The last three weeks have been tough,'' a relieved West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "We could be sitting here with a much better record except for one play here or there.''
The Mountaineers could be sitting there with a sixth straight loss, too, if it hadn't been for Tavon Austin.
Once again, Austin was the most spectacular player on the field. After rushing for 344 yards a week ago in a loss to Oklahoma, he ran for 74 and caught six passes for 99 yards. But he saved his best for the fourth quarter when he ran 75 yards with a jet sweep pass from Geno Smith for the go-ahead score and then ran for the 2-point conversion to make it a 7-point game.
He also returned a punt 68 yards for an apparent touchdown in the fourth quarter, only to have it called back because of a holding penalty on freshman K.J. Dillon. But it still put WVU in position for one of Tyler Bitancurt's three field goals. And if that wasn't enough, Austin ran for the first down that gave West Virginia the last one it needed to run out the clock.
"It's really amazing to see,'' quarterback Geno Smith said of Austin. "He's the most dynamic player in college football.''