The Wildcats finished out the regular season with a 27-17 win over Iowa State Saturday night. The win also gave head coach Chris Klieman his eighth victory of the season, the most by a first year head coach in school history.
Underclassmen stepped up in the win, providing momentum headed into the bowl game.
Senior day at Bill Snyder Family Stadium started off strong with a 93-yard kickoff return by freshman wide receiver Joshua Youngblood to take an early 7-0 lead. It was Youngblood’s third kickoff return touchdown of the season. Youngblood finished with 138 all-purpose yards in the game.
The freshman made a name for himself on special teams even though he did not start the season as a return man.
The Wildcats went up 14-0 with a run by freshman running back Jacardia Wright — the first touchdown of his career at Kansas State. Wright had a career day with 60 rushing yards.
Wright missed time this season due to an ankle sprain, but was able to learn from the top backs, and he was ready for his opportunity.
“It’s good to be able to watch James Gilbert and Jordon Brown out there because you learn a lot from those two,” Wright said. “They’re really good backs, and coach always told me to wait my turn. I waited my turn, and today I was able to go out there and play my hardest.”
After being held scoreless on 39 total yards of offense, the Cyclones woke up in the second quarter and got on the board with an eight-play, 43-yard touchdown drive. The drive included a fourth and 13 conversion capped off by a 15-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy to redshirt freshman wide receiver Sean Shaw Jr.
Following a K-State punt, the Cyclones drove down the field and tied the game 14-14 on a one-yard touchdown on fourth down by freshman running back Breece Hall. It was the second fourth down conversion of the game.
The Wildcats finished the half with 122 total yards with only 17 passing yards. Iowa State had 124 yards passing and 168 total yards.
On the first possession of the second half, K-State turned the ball over on a fumble by junior quarterback Skylar Thompson, but the defense forced a three-and-out.
Thompson threw an interception on the first play of the following drive. The Cyclones took a 17-14 lead on that drive with a 36-yard field goal by redshirt junior kicker Connor Assalley.
K-State tied the game with a 43-yard field goal by junior kicker Blake Lynch late in the third quarter.
The Wildcats then took a 24-17 lead on a 15-yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Jordon Brown in the fourth quarter
Iowa State did not convert a third down until halfway through the fourth quarter.
“Defense was dynamite, I think I saw [Iowa State was] one-of-13 on third down,” Klieman said. “I liked Coach [Scottie] Hazelton’s plan coming into it. I thought our coverage was good.”
The K-State defense limited Purdy to 185 passing yards. Entering the matchup, Purdy averaged a conference-leading 320 passing yards per game.
Getting pressure on Purdy was a critical defensive element.
“That’s what we really focused on in the defensive end room this week,” senior defensive end Reggie Walker said. “Just really rushing after their quarterbacks, and I think we did a really good job.”
The defense held the Iowa State offense to only three points in the entire second half. Quarterback pressure throughout the game limited the Cyclone’s offensive game plan.
“All four quarters we were coming after him pretty hard and making him think a little more with the ball,” Walker said.
A 27-yard field goal by Lynch sealed the game for the Wildcats. The Cyclones failed a fourth-down conversion in the final two minutes of the game.
“Hats off to our offensive line,” Klieman said. “We were able to rush the football for about 230 yards against an exceptional defense.”
The Wildcats are bowl eligible, defying low expectations and early projections of K-State finishing ninth in the Big 12 conference.