K-State early lead sours in Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama

Kansas State Wildcats fall to No. 5 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl 45-20. (Elizabeth Sandstrom | Collegian Media Group)

NEW ORLEANS — The Big 12 Champion Kansas State Wildcats went up against the highly-touted Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl, losing 45-20. Quarterback Bryce Young’s performance led the Crimson Tide, throwing for 321 yards with 5 touchdowns.

Although eventually falling, the Wildcats took the early momentum. Even after a first drive interception throw from quarterback Will Howard caught by Alabama safety Jordan Battle, K-State still held the early advantage.

Punter/kicker Ty Zentner scored the first points of the game with a field goal with 6:17 remaining in the first quarter. After a defensive stop, Zentner was quickly followed by running back Deuce Vaughn who ran for an 88-yard touchdown — the second longest run in Sugar Bowl history — to give K-State a 10-0 lead.

“That’s all blocking,” Vaughn said. “It was great blocking not only by the o-line but down field by the receivers.” 

The K-State defense forced Alabama to a third-and-10 play on their next drive. Young waited patiently in the pocket and eventually found running back Jahmyr Gibbs for a 60-yard catch leading to a touchdown. The Crimson Tide quickly took its first lead after Young hit wide receiver Jermaine Burton for a 47-yard play and tight end Cameron Latu for a 1-yard score.

The next K-State drive would be the game definer. The Wildcats took over 10 and a half minutes, converting two fourth down plays, leading to a fourth-and-goal on the 2-yard line. The play failed as Howard tried to connect to tight end Ben Sinnott on a throw near the right pylon.

“I’d had done it again,” Wildcat head coach Chris Klieman said. “We’re in attack mode from the start.”

“We knew we were going for it, fourth down in the red zone,” Howard said. “We came here to win and field goals don’t win games. … That one hurt, want that one, but you know, gotta learn from it.”

K-State lost its chance to regain control, and the Crimson Tide continued its momentum-snatching ways. In less than a minute, Young again led a drive delivering multiple high-level throws, capping off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown to take a 21-10 lead into half.

“It’s always tough but you have to always stay in the fight,” Vaughn said on losing the lead and momentum.

The second half continued the new trend as Alabama would score twice in the first two minutes of the half due to a failed onside kick and an interception.

“We’ve worked these kicks every week all year long,” Klieman said. “We also knew we had to take some chances. … We came here to win.”

The 35 unanswered points from the Crimson Tide all but put the game away. 

K-State ended the bleeding with another Zentner field goal but couldn’t cut the lead any shorter. The game ended as Alabama were crowned the 2022 Sugar Bowl champions.

Howard finished the game completing 51% of his passes for 210 passing yards and two interceptions. Vaughn finished the day with 133 rushing yards on 22 carries.

“The foundation that has been set by this team, this 2022 team is something that’s going to be felt for years to come,” Vaughn said.

K-State finishes the season with a 10-4 record total with an 8-2 conference record and a Big 12 Championship.

“My time’s up at Kansas State. It’s such a special place with so many special people” sixth-year senior nose guard Eli Huggins said. “It’s a place I hold near and dear to my heart forever.”