MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — Jake Waters' special night has No. 12 Kansas State back in a first-place tie in the Big 12.
Waters threw for a career-high 400 yards and a touchdown, Tyler Lockett returned a punt for a score and No. 12 Kansas State held on to beat sloppy West Virginia 26-20 on Thursday night.
"The receivers did a good job of getting open," Waters said. "We had a ton of open receivers and we just went out there and made plays. I felt good throwing the football."
Kansas State (8-2, 6-1 Big 12, No. 12 CFP) rebounded from a blowout loss at TCU to move into a tie with the idle Horned Frogs with two weeks left in the regular season. No. 6 Baylor can make it a three-way tie for first place with a win at home Saturday against Oklahoma State.
Kansas State has games left at home against Kansas next week and at Baylor on Dec. 6. West Virginia finishes the regular season at Iowa State next week.
Behind solid protection, Waters was 22-of-34 passing that included a 7-yard TD toss to DeMarcus Robinson on Kansas State's first drive.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder was happy with Waters, but that was about it. The Wildcats ran 29 times for 1 yard and were penalized 10 times for 102 yards.
"It was frustrating," Snyder said. "I think they did do what they had to do to win the ball game. They're pleased about that and I certainly don't want to take that away from them. We didn't have the discipline that we've come to count on so much."
Matthew McCrane kicked four field goals for the Wildcats and Lockett caught 10 passes for 196 yards.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said he approached Lockett after the game.
"I said, 'I am really glad you are graduating,'" Holgorsen said. "That kid is just a special, special football player."
The Mountaineers (6-5, 4-4) have lost three straight after winning four in a row. West Virginia committed four turnovers, with three of them occurring inside the Kansas State 30, and Josh Lambert missed a 40-yard field goal try.
West Virginia's Skyler Howard threw two touchdown passes after Clint Trickett left with what Holgorsen said was a concussion. Trickett didn't return after throwing his second interception in the third quarter. Trickett has now gone 10 consecutive quarters without a TD pass.
Howard, a junior college transfer, went 15 of 23 for 198 yards.
"If you want to talk about something positive, that's something that was incredibly positive," Holgorsen said. "He went in there and didn't bat an eye."
Lockett returned a punt 43 yards just before halftime to put the Wildcats ahead 17-3. West Virginia punter Nick O'Toole was supposed to kick the ball to the right, but Lockett fielded the ball on the other side of the field and scored untouched.
"Horrible punt," Holgorsen said. "Our whole team went right and he mishit it left."
Lockett had fumbled away a kickoff earlier in the game.
Howard rallied the Mountaineers on his first series, running 16 yards to set up his 7-yard TD toss to Kevin White that trimmed the Wildcats' lead to 23-10 midway through the third quarter. Howard engineered a 17-play drive on the next series, but West Virginia turned it over on downs at the Kansas State 26.
After McCrane missed a 22-yard field goal, Howard hit Mario Alford with a short pass, and he went 53 yards untouched to make it 23-17 with 7:23 left in the fourth quarter.
But Michael Molinari's ensuing kickoff went out of bounds. Waters hit Lockett across the middle for 28 yards to the West Virginia 25 and McCrane's fourth field goal made it a two-possession game.
Lambert made a 25-yard field goal with 53 seconds left. West Virginia then tried an onside kick that Kansas State's Glenn Gronkowski recovered.