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By D. Scott Fritchen
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Adrian Martinez earlier in the week said that No. 25 Kansas State had to prove its national ranking. The Wildcats did so emphatically while the star quarterback and running back Deuce Vaughn continue to prove themselves as one of the top tandems in the Big 12 Conference.
Martinez rushed for a career-high 171 yards and three touchdowns, and Vaughn added a career-high 170 rushing yards, as the Wildcats scored 17 unanswered points to outlast Texas Tech 37-28 in front of 50,782 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
K-State, 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big 12 Conference, has won four of its first five games for the third time in four years under head coach Chris Klieman, as the Wildcats avoided a letdown from its signature 41-34 victory at No. 6 Oklahoma last Saturday.
Martinez started things off early. He rushed 57 yards on the first play from scrimmage and then rushed 18 more into the end zone just 40 seconds into the contest.
The Wildcats have yet to trail in a Big 12 game this season.
“I feel like we’re a complete team,” Martinez said, “and we still haven’t played our best 60 minutes. We still have a lot to improve on, but we’re a darned good football team. We proved it today and we have to prove it again.”
K-State junior left guard Cooper Beebe hopes the rest of the nation is taking note of the Wildcats.
“We proved that we’re one of the best teams in the Big 12,” Beebe said. Everybody is still doubting us, they’re doubting us, and they’re going to continue to doubt us. We have a good team and we’re ready to show people.”
Afterward, Vaughn indicated that the Wildcats carry Big 12 Championship aspirations.
“Of course,” he said. “That’s the mentality you have to have every time you step on the football field, especially with what Coach Klieman said, it’s 12 one-week seasons, and you have to feel like you’re going to win that game each week. That’s how we’re taking it right now.”
Although K-State continued its roll while defeating Texas Tech, 3-2 and 1-1, for the 11th time in 12 meetings, it didn’t come without a few bumps — and a lively halftime speech from Klieman, who was displeased that his team led just 13-10 at halftime after numerous opportunities to widen the margin.
“Coach Klieman gave us a pretty strong message at halftime,” Vaughn said. “It was one of those things where you don’t see him get riled up too much. He was disappointed at the fact that we let them hang around after a great first quarter. Coming into halftime, he made his message felt. We looked at each other and were like, ‘OK, the head man is asking us to step up — we have to.’”
Did they ever.
Martinez completed 12 of 19 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown — an 18-yard scoring toss to Phillip Brooks that made it 20-13. When Texas Tech quarterback Donovan Smith answered by firing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Xavier White to cap a 7-play, 75-yard drive and tie the score at 20-20, Martinez ripped off a 69-yard run into the end zone early in the fourth quarter.
Chris Tennant, who was 3 for 3 on field goals, booted a 32-yarder to give the Wildcats a 30-20 lead with 9 minutes, 7 seconds left in the game.
Martinez put it away with a 12-yard touchdown run with just under 6 minutes to go, which extended the lead to 37-20.
K-State did a magnificent job of bouncing back after essentially going nearly one quarter of playing time without a touchdown.
“(We showed) great resolve today when things were starting off well and then had a lull, and (we were a) very resilient group,” Klieman said. “We rose up.”
Texas Tech outgained K-State 473-459 and ran 82 offensive plays after twice posting 100-plus plays earlier this season. The Wildcats held the high-octane Red Raiders to 5.8 yards per play. Smith completed 34 of 48 passes for 359 yards and two touchdowns — completing passes to 13 different players. But he also suffered two interceptions and was sacked six times — three by Khalid Duke and three by Felix Anudike-Uzomah, the Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
“We proved we’re a very physical team and we’re not backing down from any competition,” Anudike-Uzomah said. “That’s basically what we proved today.”
When Texas Tech knotted the score a 20-20 late in the third quarter, the Wildcats’ defense, which appeared gassed at times, knew it needed to respond.
After Martinez’s long run put K-State ahead by a touchdown, the defense buckled down. Texas Tech failed to convert on fourth-and-5 at its own 40-yard line — a critical play as cornerback Ekow Boye-Doe broke up a pass intended for J.J. Sparkman across the middle to give the Wildcats possession.
Shortly after, Tennant’s 32-yard field goal lifted the Wildcats to a two-score advantage.
“There’s always going to be adversity. Being able to expect that and know that once that hits, you can’t fall back or fall down — you have to stand back up,” K-State safety Josh Hayes said. “You have to have that same intensity and same energy.”
For a second straight week, the K-State offense played lights out, averaging 7.9 yards per play behind Martinez and Vaughn, who became the first duo in school history to reach 100 rushing yards in consecutive games.
Vaughn increased his career rushing total to 2,684 yards, moving to No. 5 on the school’s all-time list.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Vaughn, who had 23 carries for 170 yards, including a 69-yard run down the Texas Tech sideline in the third quarter that led to Brooks’ touchdown reception. “It’s never something I thought about coming into K-State. The career that I’ve had to this point, I’ll always never take credit for all of it. The people behind me, the people inside this building and downstairs in the locker room, they’ve gotten me to this point. It’s something unbelievable to even have my name mentioned with some of the guys there. Got to keep working, got to keep building.”
The sellout crowd had plenty to cheer about. It marked the fourth straight sellout for K-State, which hadn’t sold out four straight games since seeing a streak of 39-straight games sell out over the 2012 to 2017 seasons.
“The crowd was phenomenal,” Anudike-Uzomah said. “They’re always phenomenal. There’s nothing you can say. They gave us great energy and we fed off the energy to make plays.”
Martinez and Vaughn made plenty. In fact, Vaughn even helped usher in Martinez on his 69-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter.
“It was funny,” Martinez said, “because Deuce was on a route and we looked at each other and it’s like, ‘It’s just me and you,’ and I took it all the way.”
K-State now has one week before its next test.
“Like I told the guys, we have to empty the tank one more week before we get a break,” Klieman said. “We’re going to play a really good Iowa State team in Ames, and we have to put all our chips on for this week. Then we’ll get a chance to get a rest.”