MANHATTAN, Kan. – With the help of an 85-yard punt return touchdown and 10-yard receiving touchdown from junior wide receiver Isaiah Zuber in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats pulled off a late-game 27-24 victory against South Dakota in front of 50,063 fans at Bill Snyder Stadium on Saturday.
Trailing by 12 entering the fourth quarter, the Wildcats found a spark behind an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown from Zuber with 12:12 remaining in the game, marking the 10th longest punt return in K-State history. On the subsequent K-State possession, the Wildcats drove down the field before sophomore quarterback Skylar Thompson connected with Zuber on the game-winning touchdown with 7:21 to play.
Along with the fourth quarter comeback, sophomore place kicker Blake Lynch connected on four field goals in the first half, from 22, 24, 38 and 44 yards, as the Wildcats trailed 24-12 at halftime. After allowing 24 points in the first half, the Wildcat defense flipped the script in the second half, hosting a shutout in the second half, including a decisive final defensive possession that sealed the K-State victory.
HOW IT HAPPENED
After a fumble that resulted in a South Dakota field goal, the Wildcats responded with their first score of the game on a 24-yard field goal from Lynch. The Wildcat’s scoring drive moved 66 yards in 10 plays, including a 44-yard scamper from Thompson, as the Wildcats tied the ball-game at 3-3 with 4:16 remaining in the first quarter.
South Dakota would drive down the field to take over the lead with a rushing touchdown by Coyotes’ junior quarterback Austin Simmons. The Wildcats trailed at the end of the of the first quarter, 10-3.
Like they did in the first quarter, the Wildcats responded to the Coyote’s score with a field goal. After the Wildcat drive stalled in the red zone, Lynch connected on a 22-yard field goal to bring the score to 10-6, Coyotes.
Lynch continued to put points on the board in the second quarter, connecting on field goals from 38 and 44 yards to give the Wildcats their first lead at 12-10.
Trailing by two with 2:15 remaining in the first half, South Dakota was able to put together two consecutive touchdowns, including an interception returned for a touchdown by Coyotes’ senior linebacker Alex Gray, to bring the South Dakota lead to 24-12 at the half.
Following a scoreless third quarter for both sides, the Wildcats got a spark from junior wide receiver Isaiah Zuber on special teams, where he fielded a punt at the Wildcats’ 15-yard line. Zuber was able to find space along with several blocks, leading to an 85-yard punt return touchdown to bring the score to 29-19, South Dakota.
On the subsequent K-State possession, junior running back Alex Barnes busted a big run through the South Dakota defense, rushing 34 yards to the South Dakota 30-yard line. Later in the drive, sophomore quarterback Skylar Thompson found Zuber in the back of the end zone for the eventual game-winner. The Wildcats converted on the two-point conversion to lead 27-24.
On the final possession of the game, South Dakota place kicker Mason Lorber missed a game-tying 51-yard field goal as time expired, as K-State held on for its season-opening victory.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Isaiah Zuber – Leading the Wildcats in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, Zuber played a vital role in the K-State offense, including a late receiving touchdown to give the Wildcats the lead in the fourth quarter. Zuber totaled five receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Reggie Walker – The K-State junior defensive end recorded the sole K-State sack in the game, while also hurrying South Dakota quarterback Austin Simmons on three occasions. Walker finished the game with three tackles, including two solo tackles and a pass break up.
SPECIAL TEAMS STARS OF THE GAME
Blake Lynch – K-State sophomore place kicker Blake Lynch converted on all four of his field goals in the first half, including a long of 44-yards. Lynch’s four field goal conversions were the most in the first half since Jamie Rheem connected on four field goals on October 16, 199 against Utah State, and the most field goals by any place kicker in their K-State debut.
Isaiah Zuber – Needing a spark in the second half, trailing 24-12, Isaiah Zuber returned a punt 85 yards for a Wildcat touchdown to bring K-State within a score of the Coyotes. The return by Zuber marks the fifth punt or kick return for a touchdown in the first two games of the season in the last six seasons. Zuber’s return was also the 10th longest punt return in school history and the longest since Tramaine Thompson went 89 yards versus Missouri State in 2012.
STATS OF THE GAME
112 – The Wildcats have scored 112 non-offensive touchdowns since 1999, which is the most in the country. 38 of the non-offensive touchdowns have come from punt returns, including Saturday’s 85-yard touchdown return by Zuber. In addition, the Wildcats have scored 48 kickoff or punt returns since 2005, also most in the nation.