The Kansas State football team nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages against Texas on Saturday.
But the Wildcats fell just short and walked away from Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium with a 33-30 loss in overtime.
This game had everything. For a while, it looked like Texas was going to win in a blowout. It led 17-0 early in the second quarter and had several opportunities to pull away by even more. Then K-State furiously rallied to tied the score at 27 in the fourth quarter. Momentum completely flipped. Next came overtime, thanks to a last-second field goal from Chris Tennant, who had missed moments earlier.
Fittingly, it all came down to the final play of the afternoon.
After holding Texas to a field goal on its possession in overtime, K-State responded by driving all the way to the 4 and then elected to try and win with a touchdown rather than attempt a game-tying field goal. It was a gutsy call by head coach Chris Klieman, but it didn’t work. The Longhorns defended the play well and quarterback Will Howard was pressured in the backfield. He was unable to get off a pass and Texas celebrated a memorable result.
Texas survived one of the most exciting games of the entire season.
“We were going to try and end that game,” Klieman said. “Whether they scored and we scored and needed to go for two, we were going to try and end that game. (Offensive coordinator) Collin (Klein) and Will loved what we had. It was at the four-yard line so it was one yard farther than a two-point play. Our guys were gassed a little bit. Their guy made a play. But I’m just telling you we were going to (try and) win that game in overtime.”
With the win, the Longhorns (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) cemented their place on top of the conference standings. The Wildcats (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) will now need to make up ground to get back in the hunt for a league championship.
K-State will try to bounce back in its next game at home against Baylor. Until then, here are some thoughts on Saturday’s action.
K-State refused to quit
Many gave up on the Wildcats when they fell behind 17-0 and looked completely overmatched against the Longhorns. There didn’t appear to be much reason for fans to keep watching the game. Texas out-gained K-State by 270 yards at one point in the first half.
But the Wildcats kept believing in themselves and they deserve credit for never letting this game get out of reach.
Even as Texas rolled to a huge yardage advantage in the first half and then surged ahead 27-7 late in the third quarter it could never deliver a knockout blow. K-State kept getting up until it found itself in a competitive game.
Momentum began to swing its way with a blocked punt in the second quarter.
The Wildcats also took advantage of several ill-advised throws from Texas quarterback Maalik Murphy and came up with two interceptions. They also pounced on a fumble in the second half. Those turnovers gave them new life and set them up with short fields. That made all the difference.
As K-State created turnovers on defense, its offense got going. Howard looked like the best version of himself as he threw for four touchdowns and put pressure on Texas until the game was tied at 27-27 in the fourth quarter.
Even when Texas pulled ahead 30-27 and then 33-30 the Wildcats kept coming back. They fought until the very end.
“We had nothing going for us,” Klieman said. “We were down 27-7 in the third quarter, but those guys didn’t flinch and that’s the kind of resolve that we expect and that we love about our guys.”
Will Howard found his groove as a passer
K-State didn’t have much success running the ball against a physical Texas defense, but it didn’t need to do much of anything on the ground once Will Howard found his rhythm.
The veteran quarterback was red hot in the second half and finished the day with 327 yards and four touchdowns.
His touchdown passes were all impressive. The first went to Phillip Brooks in the left side of the end zone as he threw the ball a long distance from the opposite hash. The second also went to Brooks. On that play, Brooks caught a pass on the right sideline and then tiptoed his way past a pair of defenders into the end zone.
Next he found Keagan Johnson across the middle for his first touchdown catch in a K-State uniform. Lastly, he lobbed a nice ball to Jayce Brown for a touchdown that tied the score at 27-all in the fourth quarter.
If there is a silver lining to this loss for K-State it is that it may have found something on offense while using a pass-first attack.
“We definitely showed that we can throw the ball,” tight end Ben Sinnott said. “When you have got guys like Phil and Keagan and Jayce to make those plays and just being able to trust the guy next to you it really helps. I think it’s a really big deal for us to put that on film and just leave that in the back of our opponents’ heads.”
Howard has given the Wildcats plenty of excellent games over the years, but he has never been hotter than he was during the second half on Saturday.
K-State got off to a nightmare start on offense
Offensive coordinator Collin Klein had to feel like he was in the middle of a bad dream for most of the first half.
The Wildcats began the day by punting on their first six drives. Making matters worse, most of those drives were of the three-and-out variety.
K-State managed just two first downs and 21 yards over the course of its first six drives, which is one of the main reasons why Texas jumped out to a 17-0 lead.
It was tough sledding for K-State for most of the first half. Nothing it tried to seem work against a physical Texas defense. The Wildcats started out with Howard at quarterback, but he struggled to move the chains. Avery Johnson came in and couldn’t get much going, either.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, they kept fighting and eventually took advantage of a blocked punt that set them up with excellent field position. Howard immediately hit Brown for a big gain up the right sideline and then found Brooks for a touchdown.
The Wildcats finished the half with 106 yards and seven points and ultimately got going as the game went on, but they dug themselves a big hole at the start of the game.
Jake Clifton delivered a strong game on defense
If you’re looking for a defensive positive from K-State’s loss against Texas, look no further than Jake Clifton.
The sophomore linebacker had one of his best games in a K-State uniform and finished with eight tackles, including one for a loss. Many of them were big hits that you could hear all the way up in the nosebleeds.
His ability to rotate between all three linebacker positions has been a nice boost for the Wildcats as they deal with injuries in the middle of their defense.
Jacob Parrish was also very opportunistic on defense and he came up with a pair of interceptions.
Keagan Johnson had his finest game at K-State
This was a breakout game for Keagan Johnson.
K-State fans have been waiting to see big things from the Iowa transfer, but he had been mostly quiet this season at receiver. That changed on Saturday when he grabbed seven passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
If he continues to make plays like that, the K-State offense will have a higher ceiling moving forward.