Turnovers and two-point conversions proved to be the difference as the Kansas State Wildcats (4-3, 4-2) fell short 20-18 in their showdown against No. 14 Oklahoma State (5-1, 4-1) Saturday afternoon. The matchup was a crucial one when it came to the Big 12 Conference standings, with both trying to gain ground at the top of the leaderboard.
Despite holding the Cowboys to only 256 yards and putting up 370 yards on the top defense in the Big 12, the K-State offense just could not finish out drives.
“We’ve just gotta finish,” senior center Noah Johnson said. “As a whole offense, we’ve gotta finish. We can’t get complacent, can’t think that we are driving, we are in the red zone, and we are just going to score automatically.”
Oklahoma State was without offensive weapon senior wide receiver Tylan Wallace, and the Wildcats managed to shut down junior running back Chuba Hubbard to only 31 yards on the afternoon. Redshirt senior running back, LD Brown picked up the slack and helped provide a spark for the OSU offense with a season-high 110 yards.
The Wildcats opened the scoring with a 30-yard field goal by senior kicker Blake Lynch late in the first quarter to finish an 11-play, 56-yard drive. K-State then boosted their advantage to 6-0 midway through the second quarter on a 29-yard field goal by Lynch.
Freshman quarterback Will Howard got the Wildcats into the red zone with under two minutes remaining in the half with a 69-yard quarterback sneak. K-State capitalized on the opportunity with a four-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Phillip Brooks.
The Wildcats then elected to go for a two-point conversion in rather unconventional timing, which failed, leaving them up 12-0 going into halftime. This failed two-point conversion would ultimately be costly for the Wildcats.
“You always are trying to get to that 14 points rather than chasing it,” Klieman said. “Let’s be honest, we had a great play called, and we just didn’t execute it.”
The Cowboys were held to only 83 total yards of offense in the first half, with six of the seven drives ending in punts. Hubbard was limited to only 11 yards on three attempts in the first half.
OSU finished the half with only nine positive yards on the ground with a combined 13 yards lost. It was the first time the Cowboys had been shut out in the opening half since 2014.
“We had a really good first half,” Klieman said. “[We] kept them off balance rushing the football, and on defense, we were able to get off the field and not sit out there for 90 plays like they want you to. In the end, we had our chances, and we didn’t quite finish the job.”
The third quarter saw a huge momentum shift as the Cowboys took the lead off of three straight drives.
With the wind being a massive factor in the game and the Wildcats being forced to punt on four consecutive drives, the Cowboys had prime field position each drive.
“We just couldn’t flip the field in the third quarter,” Klieman said. “[We] had a couple of three and outs that we were close but we couldn’t have because we were not punting the ball into that wind very well, and they had a couple of short fields,”
The Cowboys put together a strong drive in the first possession of the third quarter but had to settle for a 35-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Alex Hale to trail 12-3.
Following a K-State three and out, the Cowboys reached the red zone on a 50-yard run by Brown and got right back into the game on a nine-yard touchdown run by freshman wide receiver Brennan Presley to make it 12-10.
Oklahoma State took a 13-12 lead with a 33-yard field goal by Hale, the first lead of the game for the Cowboys and the third consecutive drive that resulted in points.
“They forced the issue,” senior Justin Hughes said. “They came out in a formation over and over and just showed us different looks out of that formation.”
True freshman quarterback Will Howard shows promise in first half against Oklahoma State, struggles in second
The K-State offense struggled to gain any momentum in the second half with a total of 28 yards in the half. The Wildcats found life midway through the fourth quarter thanks to a 58-yard catch by sophomore tight end Sammy Wheeler.
That momentum was erased a few plays later after Howard attempted to run the ball but fumbled it right into the hands of sophomore safety Jason Taylor who proceeded to return the ball 85-yards to give the Cowboys a 20-12 lead.
Even after losing all of that momentum, the Wildcats still proceeded to march down the field again and scored on a two-yard run by Howard. The all-important two-point conversion for K-State failed, and the Wildcats found themselves still trailing at 20-18 with just over two minutes to go.
Giving the ball back to the Cowboys after a failed onside kick, the Wildcat defense managed to get a stop with just over a minute reaming to give the Wildcats one last chance at victory.
The comeback was not meant to be though, as Howard proceeded to throw an interception on the first play of the drive to seal the game, with the Cowboys taking it 20-18.
Will Howard had 125 yards on the ground with a touchdown, a career-high. He also threw for 143 yards and recorded a touchdown through the air.
Sophomore fullback Jax Dineen was the unlikely leader in receiving with four receptions for 35 yards. Senior tight end Briley Moore was unavailable due to an injury, which forced the Wildcat offense to find other weapons.
“It was kind of everybody on deck today,” Klieman said. “Briley [Moore] is such an impact to our offense, and to not have him obviously hurt us.”
The Wildcats will now hobble into a bye week after losing two straight before traveling to Ames, Iowa, for a tilt with Iowa State on Nov. 21, another big game in terms of the Big 12 standings. Kickoff time and network for the game will be announced in the coming week.