K-State Can’t Complete Comeback, Falls 37-31 to Oklahoma

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State was unable to cap its Hall of Fame weekend with a victory over No. 6 Oklahoma. But Skylar Thompson was magnificent after missing two games due to injury. The sixth-year senior threw for 320 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-31 loss that featured an impressive fight by the Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

With former K-State greats David Allen, Jordy Nelson and Darren Sproles, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December, K-State and Oklahoma staged another clash decided by single digits.

K-State trailed by as many as 34-17 with 9 minutes remaining in the game, but comebacks had been nothing new against the Sooners. The Wildcats trailed 28-7 midway through the third quarter in last season’s 38-35 victory.

This time turned out different.

Whereas K-State defeated No. 3 Oklahoma in 2020 and the fifth-ranked Sooners (48-41) in 2019, the Wildcats fell just short of defeating Oklahoma three-straight years for the first time in school history. Miami (1985-87) remains the last school to defeat Oklahoma three straight years when the Sooners were ranked in the top 10 each game.

“I’m proud of the effort our guys gave,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “If we continue with that kind of passion, continue to believe, and get better during this off week and start to heal up a little bit, we have a great story we can still write.”

Thompson did all that he could for K-State, 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12 Conference, to make a major statement in his first action since suffering a knee injury against Southern Illinois on Sept. 11. He showed no rust after missing a win over Nevada and last weekend’s 31-20 loss at Oklahoma State in the Big 12 opener, and his initial trot onto the field to make his 33rd career start — the most by a K-State quarterback in at least 31 years — drew deafening cheers from the crowd of 47,690 eager for his return.

“I tell you what, I was super excited and to hear the crowd roar,” Thompson said. “When they announced my name at the start of the first possession, a lot of thoughts ran through my head at that moment. It was the loudest I’d ever heard the stadium and it was special.”

Thompson said that he felt good enough to play this morning. Doctors and Klieman made the decision. Once on the field, Thompson was pretty special.

“He’s a leader of men, he’s our guy, and he’s somebody I’m going to ride behind forever,” said Deuce Vaughn, who had 10 receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown to go along with 15 carries for 51 yards. “We’re so happy for him.”

Leading an offense that outgained Oklahoma 420-392, Thompson completed 29 of 41 passes without throwing an interception while slinging the ball to eight different targets. He even chased down an Oklahoma defender 70 yards to make a score-saving tackle after a fumble by running back Jacardia Wright. Thompson put himself out there for the Wildcats, who played with energy for their team leader. K-State was aggressive, went 8-for-15 on third downs, and 4-of-5 on fourth downs.

“(Thompson) played really well, and he doesn’t want to tell you that because we didn’t win the game,” Klieman said, “but to think he hadn’t played since (Sept. 11), to do what that kid did, and against that defense, and under duress and he’s not running all over the place, he hung in there and said he was going to pitch it around.

“The kid was on point today.”

While Vaughn recorded the most receptions by a K-State player in the last three years, Phillip Brooks had 6 catches for 55 yards and 1 touchdown as well. One of the game balls afterward probably ended up in the hands of senior wide receiver Landry Weber, who had his best game with four catches for 43 yards and 1 touchdown.

His score came on a 6-yard pass from Thompson in the fourth quarter, as the Wildcats began their climb back from a 34-17 deficit to make this one another nail biter. The tension only grew when Malik Knowles returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score and the Wildcats suddenly trailed 37-31 with 80 seconds remaining. But Oklahoma recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.

“I’m just trying to contribute in any way I can,” Weber said. “It was good that I was able to make some big plays. I just wish I could’ve made that one big play on fourth down, but unfortunately (it was ruled an incomplete pass), but I felt really good today, and I was really proud of all of our receivers today.”

Oklahoma, 5-0 and 2-0, won its fourth close game of the season. After outlasting Nebraska (23-16) and West Virginia (16-13) amid some distaste from their own fans, the Sooners battled their way to remain in the top 10 for a sixth week while scoring at least 30 points in 45 of their last 52 games away from Norman.

Spencer Rattler completed 22 of 25 passes for 243 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Kennedy Brooks had 15 rushes for 91 yards and one touchdown. Marvin Mims had four catches for 71 yards.

However, the Wildcats endured a pair of controversial moments in the second half, including Weber’s catch-or-no-catch, which altered the game’s course.

The Wildcats appeared to catch Oklahoma sleeping after Vaughn caught a 7-yard touchdown from Thompson that cut the deficit to 27-17. Ty Zentner executed a beautiful onside kick that he recovered after 10 yards. However, Oklahoma won a challenge after several minutes when officials reviewed their initial review and ruled that Zentner’s foot touched the ball twice, and his illegal touch wiped away the Wildcats’ potential starting position at the K-State 45.

“Whenever we hopped out there and they reviewed the review and we went back to the sideline, it was one of those things that was gut-wrenching in a sense, but we knew our defense would be able to get on the field again at some point,” defensive end Felix Anudike said. “We had faith.”

Although cornerback Julius Brents picked Rattler at the K-State 7 three plays later, bringing to life a crowd eager to erupt, the excitement quickly waned for the Wildcats, who had another impact play wiped away following another official review. This time, facing fourth-and-14 at the 48, an apparent 18-yard catch by Weber was taken away when officials ruled that he failed to maintain possession of the football as he made a diving catch. That gave Oklahoma possession near the middle of the field and hindered the opportunity to complete a comeback.

“We just had to focus on things we could control and eventually we’d catch a break here and there, but you can’t always bank on that stuff,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to deal with it and handle it the right way when adversity strikes and press forward.

“We fought hard today and never gave up.”

The first two quarters were nothing short of a battle. Although K-State led 228-141 in total offense — at one point, K-State outgained Oklahoma 111-1 — the Sooners grinded to a 13-10 halftime lead. Wright fumbled the ball inside the 5-yard line and it was returned 70 yards, but Oklahoma had to settle for a 40-yard field goal for a 3-0 advantage. K-State stormed back, and Thompson capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive when he hit Brooks for a 2-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead. Oklahoma’s first touchdown came early in the second quarter and marked just its third touchdown in the last 16 drives over a span of eight quarters.

K-State responded to the Sooners’ score with a remarkable and time-consuming possession.  Thompson led a 19-play, 63-yard jaunt that consumed 8:49, and included four third downs and one fourth-down conversion. The 19 plays tied for third-most all-time by K-State while it the drive also tied for the sixth longest in time of possession. But K-State stalled at the 12 and tied it 10-10 on a Taiten Winkel 30-yard field goal with 1:30 left in the second quarter.

Ninety seconds was just enough for Rattler to take Oklahoma 65 yards in nine plays, and Gabe Brkic drilled a 30-yarder for a 13-10 lead with 2 seconds until halftime.

That set up the second-half fireworks. Oklahoma scored on touchdown drives of 75 and 90 yards to build a 27-10 advantage with less than 6 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Wildcats could never slice the deficit to single digits until the very end.

“We’re hungry and we’ve got a fire inside of us that I don’t know if we’ve truly had since I’ve been here,” Thompson said. “We know we’re a very good football team. A few losses, you never want to lose, but we’re going to continue to pound this thing. This program has been built on adversity. We have a lot of season left, and that’s lit a fire inside of all of us. We’re excited for the next opportunity.”