Wildcats hold on against Southern Illinois, Thompson injured

Willie the Wildcat encouraging fans to get loud before a third down play against Southern Illinois on Sept. 11, 2021. K-State beat the Salukis' 31-23. (Madison Reibel | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State took down Southern Illinois in the 2021 home opener 31-23 on Saturday, Sept. 11 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Despite the win, the news of the day is the status of star super-senior quarterback Skylar Thompson, who came off the field injured after a non-contact injury halfway through the second quarter. During the 2020 season, Thompson suffered an injury that knocked him out of the final seven games of the year.

Head coach Chris Klieman shared his dismay about the play after the game in an interview with K-State Athletics.

“I visited with him at the time and was pretty emotional,” Klieman said. “I saw it happen last year in the second game and had some deja vu kinda going through my mind. I’m sick for the kid. We’ll pray for the best and see what happens.”

The injury brought in sophomore backup quarterback Will Howard, who struggled in the contest with a final stat line of 8/17 with 76 yards, an interception and a quarterback rating of 10.3. Howard started every game for Wildcats after Thompson’s injury this past year when Howard was a true freshman.

Before the injury, K-State looked like they would run away with the game. Howard punched in a one-yard quarterback sneak after Thompson got the Wildcats in the red zone already up 7-0. Halfway through the second quarter, the Wildcats were up 21-3 before things started to change.

Back-to-back Javon Williams Jr. touchdown runs for Southern Illinois made it 21-16 after a Deuce Vaughn fumble in Saluki territory. Sixty seconds later, Howard threw a pick-six to PJ Jules to make it 23-21 Southern Illinois going into half-time.

That’s when scoring stopped for Southern Illinois. The K-State defense did not allow any points in the second half.

A 34-yard field goal by Taiten Winkel in the third quarter and a Vaughn touchdown in the fourth quarter closed out scoring for the game at 31-23 in favor of the Wildcats.

Deuce Vaughn was the star of the game, with 120 yards on 26 carries and three touchdowns. Vaughn was targeted a lot in the second half.

Running back Joe Ervin also showed out when he got the ball in his hands, with eight runs for 47 yards — nearly six yards per attempt. Wide receiver Malik Knowles also made his presence known in the game, with four catches for 112 yards, including a 50-yard bomb from Skylar Thompson on the first drive of the game.

Defensively, the Wildcats only gave up 276 yards but struggled to tackle at times against the Salukis’ Javon Williams Jr. A lot of the scoring came from poor field position for the defense after K-State turnovers.

On Southern Illinois’ first passing play, K-State linebacker Nick Allen started to bring down quarterback Nic Baker, who then threw a bad pass into the open. Right before it hit the ground, linebacker Ryan Hennington dove onto the turf and batted the ball up, allowing defensive linemen Jaylen Pickle to record his first career interception.

Defensive backs Julius Brents and Jahron McPherson saw plenty of action, leading the team with six and five tackles, respectfully. However, a lot of the defense was spread out during the night.

“The defense had to step up, and we had some big third-down stops that were really critical for us. Then, even a couple fourth-down stops,” Klieman said.

K-State’s final game before Big 12 play is another home contest against the Nevada Wolf Pack at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18.