Things didn’t look great for the Wildcats going into Saturday’s game against No. 3 Oklahoma. Kansas State was down several players due to COVID-19, and were also the 28-point underdog.
At halftime, it seemed like that 28-point spread was pretty accurate as K-State trailed 21-7. The Wildcats looked anything but promising in the first half, notching only 98 yards of offense compared to the 288 yards the electrifying Sooners offense produced.
K-State punted on all three of their first possessions while Oklahoma didn’t punt the ball until the fourth quarter. Through 30 minutes of play, it was all Sooners.
That’s when head coach Chris Klieman says he challenged his guys in the locker room.
“I asked the guys, ‘Are we good enough to be on the field? Are we good enough to play with these guys and beat them?’ And they all said ‘Yes,'” Klieman said.
Klieman said he emphasized the importance of taking the comeback one play at a time.
But K-State started the second half no better than the first. The Wildcats punted the ball on both of their first two possessions, and an Oklahoma touchdown put the team from Manhattan down 21.
Turnovers are what kept K-State in the game. The Wildcats had two interceptions in the first half, followed by a fumble recovery and another interception in the second half.
After Oklahoma took a 21-point lead, it was the true freshman running back Deuce Vaughn who revived the game for K-State.
“It kind of sparked our sideline,” Klieman said.
Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson connected to Vaughn for a 77 yard gain, taking K-State to the one yard line. Thompson would score on the next play to put his team back within two scores.
“I have a lot of trust in [Vaughn],” Thompson said.
In the end, Vaughn was a force to be reckoned in the upset win, tallying 129 yards receiving and 45 yards rushing.
The Sooners answered quickly. A rushing touchdown from Oklahoma freshman running back Seth McGowan put them back up by 21 late in the third quarter. Going into the fourth quarter, it was 35-14.
The Wildcats called on another true freshman for a spark, this time it was running back Keyon Mozee who went for 78 yards, taking K-State to Oklahoma’s two yard line. Thompson took it on foot for his second rushing touchdown of the game to make it 35-21.
“Once we got the momentum, I feel like we never gave it back and we just kept rolling,” Vaughn said.
It was the defense’s turn to step up for the Wildcats with time ticking down in the fourth, and step up they did.
On the second play of the drive senior defensive back Jahron McPherson lit up McGowan, forcing a fumble jumped on by senior defensive tackle Drew Wiley.
K-State found themselves with a big 3rd and seven when Thompson found Vaughn yet again. A 35-yard reception from the freshman took the ‘Cats to the Oklahoma 15-yard line.
The offense found the end zone the same way it did in the previous two drives. Thompson ran it to the outside and dove for the pylon, securing a touchdown. After the extra point, it was a seven point game.
Oklahoma was forced to punt for the first time all game.
When the Wildcats’ punt-return team got a chance to take the field, they did something special. Senior defensive back AJ Parker blocked the punt and sophomore linebacker Nick Allen jumped on it, giving K-State the ball in Oklahoma territory down by only seven.
The ensuing K-State drive required only two plays. The first was an incomplete pass intended for junior wide receiver Chabastin Taylor — who scored the Wildcats’ only touchdown of the game’s first half. On the second play, it was a hand-off to Vaughn that took him for 38 yards, all the way to the house, tying the game 35-35 with just over eight minutes left on the clock.
ANALYSIS: K-State wakes up in the fourth quarter, upsets Oklahoma
The defense bent, but did not break in the next Oklahoma drive. Senior defensive end Bronson Massie sacked Oklahoma redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler, forcing the Sooners to hand over the football with the game tied.
K-State thought they had scored again when Thompson connected with wide open senior tight end Briley Moore, but the play was flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield.
After Thompson found Vaughn again for a nine yard gain, it was 4th and four for the Wildcats on the Oklahoma 32-yard line.
Senior kicker Blake Lynch nailed the kick. Lynch made it look easy from 50 yards out, hitting the game’s first field goal as he gave the team in purple their first lead of the game. With fewer than five minutes to play, the Wildcats held a three-point advantage over the Sooners, 38-35.
The K-State defense — which looked like a different entity in the fourth quarter — would produce yet another stop. Oklahoma couldn’t get one first down on this drive, electing instead to punt it away late in the fourth with only one timeout left.
Oklahoma didn’t get possession of the ball again until less than one minute remained in the game.
It was on the second play of the drive when K-State picked off Rattler for the third time. McPherson intercepted the pass, sealing the deal for the Wildcats in a 38-35 win that left fans in Norman, Oklahoma, in utter disbelief.
The Wildcats stunned the Sooners for the second year in a row, making them the first K-State football team to beat a Top 5 ranked opponent on the road in school history. The win was also the third time Thompson beat a Top 10 opponent.
Thompson was a star in the second half, finishing with 334 yards in the air and four touchdowns in total.
“One thing about this team — we’re not gonna ever give up. So you cannot count us out.” McPherson said.