Kansas State is headed to Arlington, Texas to take on TCU in the Big 12 Championship game after defeating rival Kansas 47-27. This marks the Wildcats’ fourth conference title game appearance and first since 2003.
“The first goal is the Big 12 Championship and you know we said that in January, ” quarterback Will Howard said after the game. “To be able to be here and having that in front of us, it means the world.”
The Wildcats did not necessarily get off to the hot start they’ve been accustomed to this season – starting with a three-and-out. However, the Jayhawks gifted K-State the ball on a muffed punt. Wide receiver Malik Knowles then opened the game’s scoring with a 5-yard touchdown run.
The Jayhawk offense was able to bounce back from the mistake. They marched down the field with little Wildcat resistance and tied the game at 7-7.
K-State responded right back, with Howard hitting tight end Sammy Wheeler for a big 42-yard touchdown reception. The Wildcats led 14-7.
K-State’s special teams would make another impact play, holding the Jayhawks within their 5-yard line on the ensuing kickoff. A couple Kansas penalties followed, including an offensive holding in the endzone which, by rule, forced a safety. Another jet-sweep touchdown for Knowles put the Wildcats up 23-7 at the first quarter’s end.
Kansas running back Devin Neal would keep Kansas in the game with a touchdown. It concluded a drive that continued to highlight the Wildcat defense’s struggle to tackle in the first half. Both defenses struggled, but a better special teams for K-State was the story in the first half, with K-State leading 30-21.
“What hurt us in the first half was a real lack of communication … we got misaligned a few times … had a couple of busted coverages,” head coach Chris Klieman said after the game. “That cost us, you can’t do that against a good football team.”
In the second half, K-State struck first with a touchdown from running back Deuce Vaughn. However, the rest of the third quarter saw fairly even play, with K-State leading 37-27 with 13:39 left to play.
All that was left for K-State was to run the clock and fight off a Jayhawk comeback. A field goal, touchdown and a dominant rushing attack in the fourth quarter would ice the game for the Wildcats, giving them the 47-27 victory.
The Wildcats will take on TCU (12-0), who currently owns a spot in the College Football Playoff. In their first meeting, K-State led 28-17, but injuries plagued the Wildcats and kept them from completing the road upset.
“They [TCU] showed that they were a really good football team and were able to come back and win the football game,” Vaughn said. “This is a rematch for us and we can’t take it lightly.”
K-State finished the regular season 9-3 (7-2 in conference) and has all but clinched a Sugar Bowl appearance regardless of the outcome in Arlington. Their opponent in the bowl game in New Orleans would likely be LSU or Tennessee.
The championship game will be played at the home of the Dallas Cowboys — AT&T Stadium — at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3.
“Extremely blessed in our fourth season to get the opportunity to go to AT&T Stadium and represent this great school,” Klieman said. “I’m proud of this group… all of the credit goes to those kids in the locker room.”