AUBURN, Ala. – It couldn’t have been going any better for K?State in its season opener against No. 18 Auburn.
The Wildcats overcame 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.
Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox connected with tight end Gabe McKenzie on a 3-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone, giving the Tigers a three-point lead with 2:01 remaining.
On the ensuing possession, with comeback hopes still alive, K-State fumbled away its chances.
Auburn’s Quentin Groves tackled K-State’s Josh Freeman from behind, dislodging the football from the quarterback’s hands. Antonio Coleman scooped it up, tucked it away and raced 34 yards into the end zone, sending the Tigers – who trailed the majority of the second half – to a 23-13 win over K-State.
“You don’t come into a place like this and expect them to give you the game,” K-State coach Ron Prince said. “We had a nice game going for a while, but that’s the difference. You go on the road, it’s like a heavyweight fight. You’ve got to knock the champ out. You can’t try to get a win on decision.”
K-State 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 1st-and-goal from the three.
But the Wildcats, who acknowledged afterward they had an idea of what was coming, lost track of McKenzie and left him open in the end zone for the touchdown.
“We had watched this play on film because Auburn used it against Florida last season,” said K-State linebacker Reggie Walker. “We thought the fullback was the main option so that is why we left Gabe open.”
The Auburn offense couldn’t get anything going until that point. K-State’s defense held Cox to 126 yards passing on only seven completions and forced him into a pair of interceptions through three quarters. But Cox came through when his team most needed it, and the Wildcats couldn’t get the Tigers off the field.
Cox went 5-of-6 on the drive that set up the game-winning play, and totaled 103 yards in the fourth quarter alone.
“We have to learn how to finish,” said Jordy Nelson, who had nine receptions for 90 yards. “Auburn is a team that does not quit.”
Added Walker: “It’s disappointing. We just blew it.”