Wildcat football defeats TCU following defensive battle

A handful of K-State defenders take down TCU freshman running back Darwin Barlow in the Wildcats game against the Horned Frogs on Saturday. (Photo by Gregg Ellman | TCU Photo Pool)

Wildcat defense held the high flying TCU offense to 14 points in a gutsy win to jump to a three-game win streak. Kansas State is 3-1 and undefeated in Big 12 Conference play, their first time being 3-0 in the Big 12 since 2014.

“They played relentless; we did a great job rushing the passer, a great job covering guys,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “We get a big pick-six from A.J. Parker … couldn’t be happier with the resolve of a bunch of guys that came in here when nobody expected us to be successful except for the guys in that locker room,”

True freshman quarterback Will Howard made his first start at K-State, filling in for senior quarterback Skylar Thompson. Howard threw for 117 yards with 86 rushing yards and a touchdown. The largest blemish was an interception in the second half.

“I’m happy as heck we got the win,” Howard said. “There is a lot to clean up. … It is better to learn from a win than from a loss.”

He became the fourth freshman in school history to start a football game and the first to win his first start on the road.

Freshman running back Deuce Vaughn added to his hot start with 88 all-purpose yards. He is climbing the ranks of both rushing and receiving yards by a freshman in only four games.

The defense was the headliner for the Wildcats, especially in the second half. K-State held TCU to only 153 yards in the air and 14 points.

It was a defensive battle for the majority of the game, especially on third down with K-State going 3-13 and TCU going 5-17 with a combined 13 punts.

In the first possession for K-State, Howard got the Wildcats into the red zone with an 80-yard run on third and seven but would have to settle for a 25-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Howard finished the half with 94-rushing yards and a touchdown.

TCU responded with a ten-play, 75-yard drive to take the lead with 5:14 remaining in the first quarter with a seven-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman running back Darwin Barlow.

Senior kicker Blake Lynch hit his second field goal of the game with a 53-yard kick to tail TCU by one late in the first quarter.

The drive was kept alive with a targeting call on sophomore safety Ar’Darius Washington for a crushing hit on Vaughn, who was a defenseless receiver. Vaughn would return, but Washington was ejected after the targeting call was confirmed.

K-State drove down the field late in the half and took a 14-7 lead over the Horned Frogs with a four-yard run by Howard followed by a two-point conversion by junior wide receiver Chabastin Taylor. A 45-yard pass to Vaughn headlined the six-play, 91-yard drive.

TCU pushed the ball down into K-State territory on the half’s final drive, but the Wildcats blocked a field goal attempt to keep the score 14-7 heading into the half.

Sophomore quarterback Max Duggan left after taking a hit from senior linebacker Elijah Sullivan on a quarterback scramble with under a minute remaining in the half. He returned in the first drive of the second half following an interception by Howard but was in and out in the third quarter.

Both offenses fizzled out in the second half, with the first ten combined possessions ending without an offensive score.

The K-State defense stepped up midway through the third quarter with a pick-six by senior defensive back AJ Parker to put the Wildcats up 21-7.

In crunch time, the Horned Frogs reached the red zone trailing by 14 with five minutes remaining in the game. TCU scored on a fourth down on a quarterback scramble by Max Duggan to trail 21-14 with three timeouts.

The Wildcats had an opportunity to get a first down after a nine-yard run by Vaughn but failed to convert, giving TCU the ball with 1:05 remaining.

On the final play of the game, the Wildcats had intercepted the pass but a roughing the passer penalty gave the Horned Frogs one more opportunity with the ball at the K-State 39 yard line and zeros on the clock. Junior defensive back Justin Gardner batted down the pass in the end zone to defeat TCU.

“We’re hungrier and way more disciplined for sure,” Gardner said. “We just have a team full of guys who really want to win, We have this [saying] in our locker room, ‘You just got to play the full 60.’ That’s what we put our heads into after week one.”

K-State will have a week off before hosting Kansas. Game time is still TBD. It will be the 118th edition of the matchup.