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By D. Scott Fritchen
MANHATTAN, Kan. – No. 15 Kansas State erupted with a late first-half score and then clamped down on Troy in the second half, as the Wildcats snapped the Trojans’ 12-game winning streak with a 42-13 victory and continued an impressive stretch of 40-point performances in front of a sellout crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
K-State led just 14-10 when Will Howard drove the Wildcats 66 yards on five plays and hit sixth-year senior wide receiver Phillip Brooks with a 39-yard touchdown strike with 10 seconds left in the first half for a 21-10 halftime lead. Then the Wildcats held the Trojans to four consecutive three-and-outs to start the second half to turn a sleeper into a blowout.
“We needed that game,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “We had a lot of adversity, especially in the first half, and we kind of rose above it. The momentum flipped a little bit. Great job by (offensive coordinator) Coach (Collin) Klein and our offense getting the touchdown before halftime.
“We talk about a four-over-four mentality, which is the last four minutes of the first half and the first four of the second half. That was critical for us to get that score. We need to continue to get better and clean some things up, but that’s a quality opponent we beat.”
Troy entered with the second-longest winning streak in the FBS and left Manhattan with its biggest blowout defeat since a 37-point loss against Appalachian State on November 28, 2020.
K-State has scored 40 points in four straight regular-season games for the first time since the middle of the 2002 season.
Howard completed 21-of-32 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns and one interception, and he added two rushing touchdowns for the Wildcats, 2-0, who have allowed just one touchdown in their first two games.
“It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I think we needed this,” Howard said. “This is a game where we learned a lot. This was a really, really good team. Troy won 12 straight and they had one of the tougher defenses I’ve gone against. Those dudes were hitting and heated us up pretty well. That was a really good game for us to learn from.”
Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Chris Lewis to make it 14-10, but that’s as close as the Trojans, 1-1, could get as the Wildcats stymied star running back Kimani Vidal and made multiple defensive stops coming out of the locker room.
K-State outscored Troy, 21-3, over the final two quarters.
“Something we emphasized a lot this offseason is called the four-over-fours, so those four minutes before halftime and four minutes after is a real critical part of the game,” K-State linebacker Austin Moore said. “That’s something we talked about at halftime. It was huge for us.”
While Vidal finished with 83 rushing yards on 17 attempts one week after darting for a school-record 248 rushing yards in his opener, K-State went to Brooks, who had seven catches for 94 yards and one touchdown and rushed for another score on a jet sweep.
“The first one was a walk-in touchdown and the second one, somebody had to make a play,” Brooks said. “We were struggling on offense. It’s crazy because I just put my head down to work and looked up and saw the results. I’m just making a play. That’s my mindset.”
Brooks led a skill-position group that enjoyed solid performances as Jadon Jackson caught a nine-yard touchdown early in the first quarter and running back Treshaun Ward took a shovel pass into the end zone for a 35-13 lead with 8 minutes, 48 seconds left in the game.
K-State outgained Troy 397-286 in total offense and held the Trojans to just 6-of-17 on third downs while the Wildcats racked up four quarterback sacks, including two by defensive end Khalid Duke. It was Duke’s third-down sack late in the first half that enabled the Wildcats to regain possession and drive for the score just before halftime.
K-State surrendered just 98 total yards in the second half.
“All of us are dogs on the field,” Duke said. “Everybody is getting to the ball, and everybody is one unit and communicating and dominant. We just dominate every single down, not letting any offense get momentum and drive the ball down the field, and just playing as a team. When you see us together celebrating as a team, that’s the Mob.
“All of that is the Mob.”
K-State won the coin toss, took the ball, and drove 71 yards in eight plays, starting with the pass and mixing in the run. Howard found Brooks twice, Ward showcased his elusiveness with a 20-yard run, and Howard capped the drive by hitting Jackson, who was running right to left, in the middle of the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown.
The Wildcats outgained Troy 147-40 in the first quarter and wasted little time reaching the end zone early in the second quarter. Facing second-and-goal at the 2-yard line, Howard handed off to Brooks on a jet sweep and the wide receiver caught a block from Ben Sinnott before running past the right pylon for a 14-0 lead.
Moments later, K-State’s defense stepped up when Brendan Mott applied pressure and Will Lee III intercepted a pass intended for Deshon Stoudemire and returned the ball 11 yards to K-State 46. However, Howard threw an interception in the end zone and the Trojans amassed a 14-play, 73-yard drive capped by a 24-yard field goal to get on the scoreboard for the first time.
“I know (Howard) was kicking himself for the one pick that he threw into the end zone, probably getting a little bit greedy potentially, but he really settled in after that and said, ‘I made a mistake, I’ve got to own it, and I’ve got to come back really well,’” Klieman said. “He settled in and played really well.”
After K-State was unable to move the ball, confident Troy came back with a 75-yard drive that ended when 6-foot-3 Chris Lewis caught a 21-yard touchdown over Lee to trim K-State’s lead to 14-10.
However, K-State, in the face of adversity during an underwhelming quarter of football, finished on a high note.
Howard expertly drove down the field with 49 seconds left until halftime. He rushed for 15 yards, then Brooks hauled-in a pass on a crossing route at the 24-yard line, and he raced past a block from Jackson for a 39-yard score to put K-State ahead, 21-10, with 10 seconds left in opening half.
“There were a lot of opportunities we had,” Howard said. “We didn’t capitalize on a couple opportunities. We learned a lot from this going into a big week next week.”
It wasn’t until the final play of the third quarter that Vidal popped off a long run when he weaved inside the defense for 46 yards to the K-State 23-yard line. However, K-State’s defense stiffened, and the Trojans settled for a 37-yard field goal.
“We gave them one big run, but other than that, we did an awfully good job in the rush game,” Klieman said. “We work hard on our run game, and we’re hitting our fits and hitting them physically and pushing the pile back.”
The Wildcats did exactly that.
It all goes back to the four-over-four philosophy.
“Our run defense, we’re pretty elite,” cornerback Jacob Parrish said. “We had the four-over-four. We did a good job with that.”