Triumph in trenches helps Wildcats win Texas Bowl

Senior defensive end Jordan Willis dives at senior quarterback Trevor Knight’s feet during the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl between K-State and Texas A&M in the NRG Stadium in Houston on Dec. 28, 2016. The Wildcats beat the Aggies 33-28. (Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

Chants of “We own Texas!” rose from the fans wearing purple inside NRG Stadium Wednesday night after the Kansas State Wildcats beat the Texas A&M Aggies in the AdvoCare V100 Texas bowl.

Head coach Bill Snyder was doused in a confetti bath instead of the traditional icey-Gatorade one, an apparent nod to the coach’s age mixed with the hope of many fans that he’ll need his health for future seasons as the team’s coach.

Wednesday’s victory was assured largely in the trenches of the game. There, players like sophomore offensive lineman Dalton Risner helped give players like Wildcat junior quarterback Jesse Ertz the time he needed to get the offense going. While players like senior defensive end Jordan Willis helped keep Texas A&M senior quarterback Trevor Knight off-balance.

Ertz was sacked three times for a total of six yards by Texas A&M’s pass rush. The rush included the likes of junior defensive end Myles Garrett, considered by many a future 1st-round NFL draft pick, possibly even the first overall should he forego his senior season and leave school after this year.

Garrett, however, was held relatively silent. His only noteworthy play came early in the second quarter when he blocked an extra point attempt after K-State’s second touchdown.

“I thought our guys just did a nice job (protecting against Garrett),” Snyder said. “(Freshman left tackle) Scott Frantz lined up against him and played and he was a newcomer for us and I think it gave him a great deal (of confidence). He played well against him, probably as well as anybody that’s played against him during the course of the year.”

While the team did occasionally do some things to help Frantz, most of the time he was on his own, Snyder said.

“He was one-on-one a good portion of the time,” Snyder said. “(Garrett) is a tremendous player, as all of you know. He’s a legitimate first team All-American, a legitimate, very high draft choice and there’s no ‘if’s’, ‘and’s’ or ‘but’s’ about it, but I was really proud of our guys and Scott in particular for doing such a nice job with him.”

During one stretch, Ertz ran for a 20-yard gain to the Aggies’ one-yard line. The team then ran consecutive quarterback-sneaks against the Texas A&M defense which was backed close to their own goal line. On the first play, the Wildcats got stopped for no gain. On the second, Ertz got in.

“Our offensive linemen take a great deal of pride in what they do,” Snyder said. “You can call it sometimes ‘smash-mouth football,’ but in all reality it’s not so much that as it is being in the right spot in the right time and being as physical as you can but also being able to finish blocks, that’s a significant thing.”

The Wildcats out-rushed the Aggies 238 yards to 159. Ertz led the Wildcats with 82 of those.

Defensively, the Wildcats were not credited with any sacks but got to rushers in the backfield three times, subtracting 11 yards from Texas A&M’s total yardage. The Wildcats also got an interception, which came in-part because of senior defensive end Jordan Willis, who was in front of Knight and closing fast.

Wednesday’s game was Willis’ last in a Wildcat uniform. Lee said his play tonight was the same as it always is.

“He always plays great,” Lee said. “You know I’m always happy for Jordan, because we played against each other in high school, and now to be on the same team and see him doing terrific things is just a lot of fun.”

While Willis may be gone next year, most of the Wildcats offensive and defensive lines will return next season and will be groups to fear.

Shelton grew up in the desert southwest. A native of Lancaster, California, he mostly grew up in south Phoenix, Arizona; Austin, Texas; and Colorado Springs, Colorado before moving to Kansas and graduating from Junction City High School. He started working as a news writer for the Collegian in 2009 before taking a three-year break from college. He returned to K-State in 2013 and has since worked for the news desk, feature desk, as a copy editor and now as a sports writer. He enjoys tap dancing, writing anything possible, reading court opinions and watching Arizona Coyotes hockey.