For the first time since 2012, the Kansas State Wildcats are Big 12 Champions. They won the Big 12 Championship Game in Arlington, Texas, against the TCU Horned Frogs 31-28 in overtime. The game featured many momentum-swinging moments that went all the way into the last few plays.
The first half had game-changing play after game-changing play. TCU quickly started their down-field game with a 53-yard throw from quarterback Max Duggan to wide receiver Quentin Johnston. The Horned Frogs took the quick 7-0 lead.
TCU had a chance to go up by 10, but kicker Griffin Kell missed closely left on a 55-yard field goal attempt. K-State would respond with a 40-yard pass from quarterback Will Howard to wide receiver Malik Knowles, setting up a touchdown to tight end Ben Sinnott on fourth down to put the score at 7-7.
“That locker room has so much confidence in Will Howard,” Klieman said about Will Howard jumping in to play this season. “Will Howard’s a flat competitor.”
TCU safety Millard Bradford would be called for targeting on running back Deuce Vaughn, but the call would be overturned. On the next K-State drive, Knowles again was the spark for a touchdown, taking a jet sweep run for 40 yards. Howard finished the drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown to take a 14-7 lead, but the Wildcats would lose Knowles due to a leg injury for the rest of the game.
Other big plays included missed touchdown opportunities from both Howard and Duggan as each team failed to seize full momentum. Wide receiver Kade Warner had a deep ball completion overturned, looking to turn the tide to TCU.
The Horned Frogs failed to take advantage of the opportunity. On a big play, Johnston fumbled the ball on a punch-out from cornerback Julius Brents that was recovered by linebacker Austin Moore. On the bright side for TCU, they would end up kicking a field goal with 29 seconds left. The Wildcats held a 14-10 lead as the Horned Frogs would receive the ball in the second half.
The second half followed the momentum-swings filled first half. A quick stop for K-State led to a 25-yard touchdown from Howard to wide receiver RJ Garcia II, the first of his career. K-State would go up 21-10 and then witness a third down sack from Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah.
Momentum was all Wildcats, but a muffed punt gave TCU the ball back and led to a Horned Frog touchdown. TCU would stop the Wildcats and use a 51-yard catch from Johnston to move down the field. Again, momentum seemed to be leaning one way and then switched again. Brents and Johnston battled again, but Brents caught an interception in the end zone to give K-State the ball back.
“It was huge,” Klieman said about the interception. “Quentin Johnston is a great football player. He’s a first round draft pick and we gave Julius a tough task…. Julius wants to be on that stage.”
Up by four points, a touchdown would seem to end the game. Being controlled all game, Vaughn finally had his run, breaking outside, high stepping a tackler and then putting a defender in the dirt with an open-field juke. K-State would go on to take a 28-17 lead with over 11 minutes left.
“I don’t do anything without these guys up front and everybody on the perimeter.” Vaughn said.
TCU would go down the field and respond with a field goal to go down 28-20. Quickly stopping the Wildcats, TCU received the ball with 4:47 remaining to tie. The drive seemed to be lost for the Horned Frogs multiple times, but Duggan wouldn’t allow it. Play after play, Duggan used his feet, exhausting himself to the highest degree. Rushing for 95 yards on the drive, Duggan finished it off with a 8-yard touchdown and a two-point conversion.
After a failed attempt from K-State to score, TCU would kneel it out. The Big 12 Championship Game was sent to overtime.
The injured Adrian Martinez came out onto the field for the coin toss, calling tails, and winning tails. K-State gave TCU the ball to start overtime and would wait to see the results of the drive.
The Horned Frogs quickly reach the 6-yard line for second and goal. Twice, each on second and third down, TCU was called just short of the goal line at the 1-yard line, leaving themselves with one yard needed on one play. Then, the Wildcat defense made the stand. TCU running back Kendre Miller was swallowed at the line of scrimmage. K-State would just need to score to win.
“That was great execution overall by the defense,” linebacker Daniel Green said. “We talked about situations like that, just happened to blow up and that’s what championship games come down to.”
Moving to the 13-yard line, K-State set up punter/kicker Ty Zentner for the win. Zentner stood tall and nailed the 31-yard attempt through the uprights.
Big 12 Championship post-game press conference
“Over the last five to six weeks, there may not be a more valuable kid on the football team than Ty Zentner. Ty was huge again today,” Klieman said. “What was just so poetic for me was, the ball was on his foot in the last game of Big 12 play for him. There was no doubt in my mind he was making that.”
Zentner won K-State the 2022 Big 12 Championship 31-28 in an overtime classic.
Vaughn was named the game’s most outstanding player, running for 137 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries. He also caught two receptions for thirty yards.
Howard threw for 199 yards on the day on 18-32 passing. Wide receiver Phillip Brooks led the team with 48 receiving yards. Green led the team defensively with 10 tackles.
“It means everything,” Green said about winning the Big 12 Championship. “Coach came here to build a culture that wants to win championships.”
The Wildcats hold a 10-3 record before going into the bowl game. The expected matchup by multiple sports outlets has the Wildcats traveling to New Orleans to face off against the Alabama Crimson Tide on New Year’s Eve.
“Big 12 Champions got a nice ring to it.” Klieman said.