Will Grier’s halftime heave against Kansas State in 2017 went from mistake to miracle

MORGANTOWN — It was the best of Will Grier, it was the worst of Will Grier.

Never has the quarterback so egregiously mismanaged 10 precious seconds. Never has he made mismanagement look so dazzling.

His mistake-turned-miracle before halftime of last year’s 28-23 win at Kansas State seemed better suited for backyard football than the Big 12. Ultimately a 30-yard touchdown heave that never should’ve happened provided the decisive score for West Virginia … and an ulcer for his head coach.

Dana Holgorsen described it as a “great play,” but with the caveat, “It was not good.”

To reset the situation:

West Virginia had the football at Kansas State’s 30-yard line with 10 seconds left in the half. The opportunity itself was a gift from Grier’s counterpart Skylar Thompson, who tossed a screen pass straight into the gut of WVU defensive end Ezekiel Rose.

As Grier hustled the offense onto the field, three receivers lined up on the left side — Marcus Simms, David Sills and Gary Jennings — while split wide right was Ka’Raun White.

The play-call involved two options: A quick look at Simms on a fly pattern, and if that was covered, Grier could check down to running back Justin Crawford in the flat.

“Give me 10 yards, and let’s kick a field goal,” Holgorsen said.

Against a four-man rush, Grier enjoyed a stable pocket.

“We had a play set up to take a shot in the end zone, and it wasn’t there,” he said.

Grier could’ve taken the dumpoff to Crawford, who slipped out of the backfield unnoticed and was begging for the pass. But with 6 seconds left, Grier miscalculated by half-rolling right, where he encountered 6-foot-4 defensive end Bronson Massie, who was using this third move to swim away from offensive tackle Colton McKivitz.

“You’re setting and setting and then you think to yourself, ‘It’s been 3 or 4 seconds and well, he’s still got the ball,’ ” McKivitz said. “Then it turned into a mad scramble.”

Grier pivoted and turned left, rolling free from a second defensive lineman who had leaked through the line.

“He is an excellent scrambler, and he has the athletic ability to really make people miss,” said K-State coach Bill Snyder. “He’d be a great dodgeball player.”

And Grier dodged Holgorsen’s ire by doing what he did next.

Having retreated to the 45-yard line, the quarterback nixed any chance of a short-yardage pickup. Then came a moment of panic. “I tried to find the clock, and I couldn’t find it,” he said.

Good thing, because less than 4 seconds remained.

With Grier being pressured from behind, left guard Grant Lingafelter peeled back for a two-handed shove that flattened a defensive lineman. That provided time for a final scan.

“If the clock runs out, I’ve got to score a touchdown. So I rolled left and saw Ka’Raun open and threw it.”

White began the play as a decoy, running a short curl that looked rather half-hearted. But there was nothing half-hearted about the way he traversed the field toward the end zone.

Off-balanced and desperate, Grier was unable to square his shoulders. Yet with 2 seconds left, he unleashed a pass that spiraled 50 yards through the rain. With time expiring as the ball reached its apex, K-State had five defenders in the end zone, but none of them close to White.

Grier said a midair prayer: “I really hope he catches this ball, because if not, I’m getting yelled at.”

White caught it, of course, to the unbelieving delight of teammates and boos cascading from K-State fans.

Sills was too exhausted to celebrate.

“I just remember Will running back-and-forth like six times, and I was running back-and-forth with him,” he said. “Then he flings it, and I didn’t know what he was doing because I didn’t even see Ka’Raun. I couldn’t even talk at the end of that play.

“I just knew if that wasn’t a completion then Coach Holg probably would’ve lost his mind.”

Grier knew his chuck-it-up highlight wasn’t exactly the efficient decision-making he was coached to execute.

“We’ve talked here a thousand times about how we want to be high-percentage. That was probably low-percentage.”

Holgorsen summed up the zaniest 10 seconds of Grier’s career like this:

“He made a play … And if he ever does it again, then he’s going to be in trouble.”

Twitter @GAllanTaylor

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