K-State falters late, loses 23-13 at Auburn

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It couldn’t have been going any better for K-State in its season opener against No. 18 Auburn. The Wildcats had overcome a slow start by mixing in timely trick plays and an efficient second-half offense that – for a while, anyway – had the 86,439 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium silenced.

Then it all came apart. Trailing by three points with less than two minutes to play, Josh Freeman had K-State’s offense near midfield after converting on a fourth-down pass play to Jeron Mastrud. However, two plays later, Auburn’s Quentin Groves tackled Freeman from behind, dislodging the ball from the quarterback’s hands. Antonio Coleman picked it up off the turf and took it back for six points, as the Tigers held on for a 23-13 win against the Wildcats. “You don’t come into a place like this and expect them to give you the game,” K-State coach Ron Prince said. “You’ve got to take it from them and that’s ultimately what we weren’t able to do.” K-State (0-1) had built a four-point lead when Auburn took over possession at its own 43-yard line with 4:26 remaining. The Tigers moved 54 yards in five plays, setting up a first-and-goal from the three. On first down, Tigers quarterback Brandon Cox tossed a touchdown pass to Gabe McKenzie in the corner of the end zone where only he could get it. Prince said afterward he had an idea of what was coming. “Defensively we had a really good sense of what they like to run in the clutch in these kind of critical moments of the game,” Prince said. “Our coaching staff did a great job and made a great call, but turns out they made a great play.” K-State lost its season opener for just the first time since 1989, which was former coach Bill Snyder’s first year in Manhattan. “It’s disappointing. We blew it,” said K-State linebacker Reggie Walker. “We had them, but we just blew it.” After trailing 6-3 at the half, K-State came out strong in the third quarter. Senior Marcus Watts recorded an interception on Auburn’s first play from scrimmage, giving K-State solid field position at its own 31-yard line. From there, Freeman completed passes of 13 and 16 yards – one to Daniel Gonzalez and the other to Leon Patton – before Prince started tapping into some of K-State’s special plays. How special? Consider the Wildcats’ first touchdown pass of the season came not from Freeman, but from the right arm of Jordy Nelson. On third-and-six from the Auburn 21, Freeman threw a lateral pass to Nelson, who then lobbed the ball across the field to a wide-open Patton into the end zone for a touchdown to give K-State a 10-6 lead. Kicker Brooks Rossman extended the lead to 13-6 with 7:31 left in the third with a 40-yard field goal. Auburn (1-0) pulled within 13-9 on Wes Byrum’s third field goal of the game – a 31-yarder late in the third – before scoring a pair of touchdowns in the fourth. “The first 58 minutes we were doing everything right, no missed assignments and everybody was tackling,” linebacker Ian Campbell said. “Then everything just broke down and we stopped doing everything that got us to that point. Everybody tried to do too much. There are no moral victories, you have to give Auburn credit.” Freeman finished 32-of-57 for 268 yards and a pair of interceptions. Nelson had nine receptions for 90 yards to lead K-State’s receivers.

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