K-State stunned by Arkansas State 35-31 in season opener

Quarterback Skylar Thompson watches the countdown until the game in Memphis, Tennessee, during the Auto Zone Liberty Bowl. The Wildcats fell 20-17 in a close loss to Navy. (Abigail Compton | Collegian Media Group)

In front of a crowd of 11,000 people — nearly a sellout in Bill Snyder Family Stadium with new COVID-19 limitations — Kansas State dropped the home opener to Arkansas State 35-31 following a late touchdown drive. The loss snaps a six-game winning streak in home openers, the last coming in 2013 against North Dakota State.

“It wasn’t the outcome that we wanted,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “We didn’t play particularly well. I know what the guys have gone through over the past month to five weeks trying to prepare to play, and we can’t make excuses.”

Prior to kickoff, the Wildcats took a stand to promote unity with a pregame video and the playing of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” K-State wore decals and a patch to show support for unity and push for social justice.

The K-State defense opened the game with a quick three and out. Redshirt freshman defensive back Will Jones II blocked the punt giving the Wildcats the ball at the Red Wolves’ 19-yard line. Two plays later, the Wildcats took a 7-0 lead with a 17-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Skylar Thompson to sophomore wide receiver Phillip Brooks.

The Red Wolves responded with a nine-play 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a touchdown pass by junior quarterback Logan Bonner to senior wide receiver Jonathan Adams to tie the ball game.

True freshman Deuce Vaughn recorded his first touchdown as a Wildcat on a three-yard run to give K-State a 14-7 lead with 13:29 remaining in the second quarter.

The touchdown marked the first touchdown by a true freshman since 1988.

“It’s surreal. Whenever I got the opportunity, and I hit it, and I got in the end zone, I didn’t know what to think,” Vaughn said. “I was so excited, and I look forward to doing it over and over again.”

K-State would add to the lead midway through the second quarter with a seven-yard touchdown catch by senior tight end Briley Moore. The dive contained four pass plays, including a 42-yard catch and run by junior wide receiver Chabastin Taylor. A 27-yard, one-handed catch by sophomore wide receiver Malik Knowles got the Wildcats into the red zone.

Arkansas State would remain in the ballgame with a trick play, 48-yard touchdown pass by sophomore wide receiver Jeff Foreman to junior wide receiver Rashauud Paul with 6:50 remaining in the half.

The Wildcats failed to capitalize on good field position after an unsportsmanlike conduct following a 20-yard rush by Taylor that put the Wildcats at the 14-yard line. Senior kicker Blake Lynch missed the 43-yard field goal attempt.

Arkansas State put together a strong drive but fumbled at the K-State 11-yard line with only 1:26 remaining in the half and no timeouts. K-State took a 21-14 lead into the half.

The Wildcat defense kept the Wildcats ahead with two takeaways in the first half, including the fumble recovery to end a promising drive for the Red Wolves.

After an opening punt by K-State, the Red Wolves again marched down the field to the K-State 11-yard line, but a 10-yard sack ended the drive. Junior kicker Blake Grupe missed a 38-yard field goal attempt.

Following yet another punt, Arkansas State returned to the red zone after a 58-yard rush by freshman running back Lincoln Pare. A touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Layne Hatcher to senior tight end Giles Amos tied the ballgame at 21 apiece with 2:28 remaining in the third quarter.

The Wildcats were held scoreless in the third quarter but were mid-drive at the Arkansas State 29-yard line to start the fourth. Blake Lynch missed a 47-yard field goal.

Arkansas State pulled off two trick plays, including a fake punt that lead to a pass interference. The Red Wolves would score off a 5-yard touchdown catch by Jonathan Adams to take a 28-21 lead with 11:49 remaining in the game.

Trick plays were the downfall for the K-State defense.

“Well [it’s] frustrating on the second one because we called it out and actually had a really good call and didn’t make the play,” Klieman said. “The first one, inexperience in the secondary, was the first one.”

K-State had a third and 33 before a roughing the passer penalty on third and 33. To keep the drive alive, the Wildcats would score on a five-yard touchdown run by senior running back Harry Trotter to tie the game 28-28 with 6:35 remaining in the game.

Blake Lynch hit a 35-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 31-28 lead with 2:30 remaining in the game.

The Red Wolves marched down the field and scored a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining to take a 34-31 on a 17-yard catch by Jonathan Adams.

The K-State finished with 374 yards of total offense compared to Red Wolves total 489 yards. The Wildcats were only held to 91 yards rushing in the contest. K-State averaged 178 rush yards per game in 2019.

“All things considered, I thought we made some good plays, but we just didn’t make enough today,” Thompson said. “That’s part of it. We just have to learn from it and move on.”

Thompson went 17-29 for 259 yards and two touchdowns but only rushed for seven yards on seven carries.

The Wildcats struggled to stop Jonathan Adams, who had three touchdowns and 98-yards.

“I thought he was too good today.” Klieman said. “A couple of times today, we had our back to the football and didn’t turn back and make a play. On two of the touchdowns he had, we had good vision on him, and he went over the top of us and made a play.”

K-State will have a week off to regroup before facing the ranked Sooners. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sept. 26 on FOX.