Big plays early, late lead pushes football to 34-17 win over West Virginia

Defensive back, Russ Yeast, intercepts the ball from West Virginia and runs it back. (Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

For the first time since 2015, Kansas State (7-3, 4-3 Big 12) defeated West Virginia (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) in its 34-17 win Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Momentum was the only thing the Wildcats needed Saturday to keep the game going, and it came early. On the second play of the game, West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege threw an interception to Russ Yeast — one of three turnovers by the Mountaineers on the day.

Following the interception, Joe Ervin rushed for a 2-yard score to give the Wildcats the lead from the start. Toward the end of the first quarter, redshirt freshman Ty Bowman blocked West Virginia’s punt attempt, and freshman defensive back Marvin Martin scooped the ball, running it in for a 7-yard touchdown.

Martin’s return on the blocked punt was the first time since 2015 the Wildcats have scored on a blocked punt return. The previous score on a blocked punt came from Morgan Burns against Kansas.

The Wildcats kept their defensive momentum leading into the second quarter as neither team scored until Chris Tennant’s 32-yard field goal with 2:57 left in the half. West Virginia finished the half with a field goal, going into halftime 17-3.

Going into the third quarter, K-State started the half strongly with Skylar Thompson throwing a 4-yard score to Sammy Wheeler with 10:17 left in the quarter. Thompson finished the game with 138 yards and completed 14-of-19 passes.

West Virginia scored with 6:02 left in the quarter, making it a two-score game at 24-10.

In the fourth quarter, West Virginia scored with 11:50 left, cutting the Wildcats’ lead down to one touchdown.

With 8:12 left in the game, the Wildcats went for fourth-and-eight at West Virginia’s 39-yard line. Thompson found Wheeler again across the middle for the long completion.

“I didn’t hesitate, I looked at Skylar and I said, ‘This is yours. What do you like?’ What do you like because we’ve got to get a first down,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “We didn’t come here to try to hang on to win. We came here to try to win the football game, and he absolutely ripped a seam route to Sammy Wheeler.”

Wheeler finished with arguably the best game of his career, finishing with three catches for 45 yards and one touchdown.

The Wildcats then scored with a Deuce Vaughn 4-yard run, making it 31-17 with 7:22 left.

“We want to turn this around together as a football team, and that’s exactly what we did,” Vaughn said. “You see it every single day.”

Vaughn finished the game carrying the ball 25 times for 121 yards and one touchdown.

“Whenever we get the green light like that, it’s time to go make a play,” Thompson said. “Like I said before, that play was a big play in the game. We needed that first down.”

Tennant kicked another field goal, making the final score of the game 34-17.

The conclusion of the game gave Klieman his seventh win of the year. This is the second time in his three years at K-State to lead the team to at least seven wins in a season. He is the first coach in school history to do so.

Along with Klieman’s accomplishment, the Wildcats won for the 23rd time in Thompson’s 38 starts. He is the first quarterback to do so since 1990.

“It means a lot,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot that goes into that. A lot of guys that have helped me win football games. A lot of great coaches and a lot of great players.”

The Wildcats are now on a four-game winning streak and are set to play Baylor at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium for Senior Day.