On a blustery Senior Night, the K-State Wildcats overcame a dismal first half and pulled off a 24-23 win over West Virginia to give the Wildcats six wins on the season.
The wins officially qualified the Wildcats for a bowl game for the sixth straight season.
Things looked bleak at the end of the first half; a field goal from sophomore kicker Matthew McCrane provided the only points for K-State as they trailed 13-3.
Things had to change.
“Not a lot was said,” junior wide receiver Deante Burton said. “Looking around at the seniors and the staff and the guys that give 110 percent for this team and for this family and just to see how bad they wanted it. Not a lot had to be said, but when you can do something for somebody other than yourself it pushes you to do a lot.”
The Wildcats came out of the half strong, though. Senior cornerback and kick returner Morgan Burns ripped off a 67-yard return to the West Virginia 33-yard line.
Senior wide receiver Kody Cook took over at quarterback after Hubener went down with a leg injury.
The Wildcats drove to the 1-yard line before Cook snuck in on first-and-goal to cut the West Virginia lead to three.
But Cook was just getting started. He connected with junior wide receiver Deante Burton on the first play of the Wildcats’ next drive for a 77-yard touchdown pass to give the Wildcats their first lead of the night at 17-13.
“I just think Kody threw a hell of a ball,” Burton said. “That thing was floating, wasn’t it? It was pretty.”
The pass marked the longest play from scrimmage all season for K-State.
Cook finished 4-12 for 121 yards and a touchdown to go along with 34 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
Burton had a career night, catching five passes for 135 yards and a touchdown.
West Virginia responded later in the third quarter with a 14-yard touchdown run by running back Wendell Smallwood to retake the lead at 20-17.
Smallwood had a huge night, rushing for 141 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown.
The Mountaineers would extend that lead to six soon after with a 28-yard field goal from kicker Josh Lambert.
On the next kickoff, Burns made the Wildcat record books as he raced down the field, scoring his fourth kick return for a touchdown this season. The play tied him for the most kick return touchdowns in a season with Brandon Banks, who returned four in the 2009 season.
“It was something different,” Burns said. “They kicked it to the right side and the call was for it to go to the left side. There was one guy I got a stiff-arm on and one guy that was trying to get an angle on me, but my guys did a great job of making the block. I feel like every kick return has been a different guy making a key block to free me up. All of the credit really goes to them.”
The return gave the Wildcats a 24-23 lead.
After a key fourth-and-one tackle by junior linebacker Charmeachealle Moore to stop any chance at a comeback, Cook and the Wildcats were able to run the clock out, clinching K-State’s sixth win of the season.
Moore led the team in tackles recording 17 on the night, including two sacks.
“Oh it’s a blast,” Moore said of his performance. “When you see it, you get excited and you want to run to the ball. It’s like a kid in a candy store. You get a free prize.”
Now, riding a three-game winning streak, K-State looks to put the topper on what has been a thrill ride of a season, experiencing both the low of losing six games in a row and the high of winning three in a row and advancing to a bowl game.
“This is the craziest season I’ve ever been a part of,” Cook said. “I’m just happy we get to ride that high into a bowl game and go out with our three-straight wins and try to get a fourth, whoever we play, wherever we go.”
The Wildcats will get an opportunity to complete another winning season as they head to Memphis, Tennessee, to play Arkansas in the Auto Zone Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2.