Will Howard and Wildcats open season in dominant fashion

Quarterback-left tackle duo of Will Howard and KT Leveston celebrate after a rushing touchdown from Howard. The score was one of Howard's four touchdowns, including a receiving touchdown, in the 45-0 win in the season opener against SEMO on Sept. 2. (Reece Bachta | Collegian Media Group)

Momentum from the 2022 season continued with Kansas State football into the 2023 season opener. The Wildcats left no doubt behind 297 yards from quarterback Will Howard and four total touchdowns in the home opener against Southeast Missouri State with a 45-0 win.

The game started with a quick three-and-out as linebacker Austin Moore and defensive tackle Damian Ilalio split a drive-ending sack after an initial pressure from linebacker Daniel Green. Quickly after, Howard started his show.

The quarterback ended the first drive with a 33-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jadon Jackson for his first Wildcat touchdown. SEMO wide receiver Ryan Flournoy followed it up with a drive consisting of 5 catches and 48 yards. The Redhawks still failed to score with a turnover-on-downs and gave the ball back to K-State.

The Wildcats second drive didn’t prove as fruitful as the first as Howard threw an interception while taking a hit. Still, the Wildcat defense ended the SEMO drive with another 3rd down sack from nose guard Uso Seumalo.

“I’m trying to complete every pass that I throw and you know, if I don’t, it’s onto the next play,” Howard said. “Didn’t want to have that interception.”

Howard again delivered another long pass, this time to tight end Ben Sinnott up the field for 40 yards. Howard finished the drive with a 1-yard read option keeper to go up 14-0.

SEMO continued to fail to score as Howard continued to hit deep passes, including one to wide receiver RJ Garcia II and another to Sinnott in back-to-back drives going up 28-0.

“Explosive plays on offense are something that we really kind of emphasized and knew we could get with some of the playmakers that we have and with Will [Howard] throwing the ball around,” head coach Chris Klieman said.

Another defensive drive with a sack — this time from defensive end Khalid Duke with a highlight reel spin move — led to two more major highlights. Both running backs showed out on the next drive, starting with a 43-yard DJ Giddens run down the left side. Treshaun Ward followed Giddens up, but not as a runner or receiver.

Out of the diamond formation with both running backs and Sinnott in the backfield, Howard gave Ward a handoff. As the two parted ways they quickly turned back to each other as Ward hit Howard for a forward pass and an 8-yard touchdown, giving Howard a throwing, running and receiving score, all in the first half. The half ended with K-State comfortably ahead at 35-0.

The second half slowly crept through as the Wildcats continued to shut down SEMO. A 51-yard Chris Tennant field goal highlighted the half as well as the debut of true freshman quarterback Avery Johnson. 

“We knew we were going to have to play a lot of guys,” Klieman said. “We were going to play a lot of younger players.”

The former 4-star recruit ended his first drive with 60 passing yards alongside 27 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown where he showed off his juking ability. 

The night ended with many Wildcats stacking up the statsheet. Sinnott had 100 receiving yards as Garcia brought in 119 himself. On the running side, Giddens ran for 128 yards while Ward ran for 56. 

“It’s exciting because I feel like this is one of the best first outings we’ve had as an offense in the last couple years,” Howard said.

K-State moves on with a 1-0 record before hosting Troy at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, to continue non-conference play.