MANHATTAN, Kan. – Will Howard accounted for three touchdowns and sophomore running back Deuce Vaughn gained 100 rushing yards for a fifth straight game while reaching 1,000 in his career, as Kansas State raced away from Nevada 38-17 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Howard, who started in place of injured sixth-year quarterback Skylar Thompson, fired a 68-yard touchdown on the Wildcats’ second play from scrimmage. He rushed for two touchdowns during a fourth quarter in which the offense broke a 17-17 tie by scoring the final points the rest of the way in the Wildcats’ first-ever meeting against Nevada. K-State’s 21 fourth-quarter points tied for the third most in school history.
“This is the most fun I’ve had playing football in a long time,” said Howard, who completed 7 of 10 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown and added 12 carries for 56 yards and two scores. “Our team played a heck of a game from start to finish. I couldn’t be more proud of our resolve and how we stuck it out throughout the whole game.”
In a game in which K-State actually entered as a slight underdog, the Wildcats made a statement in going 3-0 ahead of their Big 12 Conference opener at Oklahoma State on Saturday. The chip on the shoulder is fully intact for a league season that they’ve dubbed the “revenge tour,” after they finished with a 4-5 conference mark a year ago.
“We feel like we have something to prove every time we go out there,” said linebacker Deuce Green, who had a team-high nine tackles and one sack for a defense that held Nevada to just 331 yards of total offense — 148 yards below its season average. “The bus on the revenge tour doesn’t have any rear-view mirrors. We’re not looking back. We’re only looking forward. We call it ‘just eating crumbs’ right now.
“We haven’t done anything yet going into the Big 12.”
Meanwhile, Vaughn continues to gobble up real estate.
Vaughn continued his young career by reaching more marks behind his jitter moves and powerful running. Vaughn had 23 carries for 127 yards and one touchdown, becoming the first K-State player since Darren Sproles in 2003 to reach five-consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards. Vaughn reached 100 yards and 1,000 career rushing yards on back-to-back plays that got the Cats to the Nevada 5-yard line with less than 7 minutes remaining. It was his 20th and 21st carries of the game. Vaughn now has 1,013 career rushing yards.
Howard pushed the ball over the goal line from 2 yards out for a 31-17 lead to cap an 11-play, 62-yard drive. Moments later, Howard ended an 8-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to close out a dominant contest on the ground.
K-State outrushed Nevada 269-25 and rushed for four touchdowns. Its streak of five 200-yard rushing efforts dating to last season marks the longest streak since 2016. The Wildcats were clicking with a 22-yard touchdown run by running back Joe Ervin, who added 11 carries for a career-high 82 yards and scored his first touchdown since 2019.
“When it was 17-17, we had the big drive to go up 24-17 and it couldn’t be a field goal,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “We needed a touchdown. That set the tone. Then we got another touchdown on an 11-play, 62-yard drive. That’s the offensive line saying, ‘Just keep giving it to the guys, coach, and we’ll keep giving them yards and pushing the pile.’
“They believe we can run the ball against everybody, and we did today.”
The K-State defense had its hands full during a third quarter in which Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, a projected first-round NFL draft pick, guided the Wolf Pack from a 17-7 deficit to tie the score. Strong showed exactly why a handful of scouts were on hand to observe him from the press box behind his composure and powerful arm. Although Strong entered the day ranked fifth in the FBS in passing yards (346.0) and ninth in passing touchdowns (six), K-State held him to 27 of 40 passing for 262 yards and one touchdown and one interception.
Nevada entered averaging 35.5 points and 479.0 total yards in its previous two games at California (22-17) and against Idaho State (49-10), but K-State held the Wolf Pack to just two touchdowns on 10 offensive drives.
“There was never a doubt we were going to have a solid defense,” said cornerback Tee Denson, who picked Strong and returned the ball 26 yards, giving the Nevada signal caller just his second interception in 93 passing attempts this season. “We’re showing the world all the hard work we put in this offseason. It’s a great feeling with the guys bringing the mob back. It’s a fun experience and we can’t wait to do it again next week.”
Howard, who started in eight games last season, struck early by finding tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe across the middle with the 68-yard touchdown just 44 seconds into the game, tied for the ninth-quickest score in school history. The Wildcats were on their way to completing their 17th perfect non-conference season since 1993 while dominating the line of scrimmage, averaging 6.5 yards per play and committing no turnovers.
“If you don’t turn the football over and you can rush the football and you play competitive enough defense, you’re going to have a chance to win games in the fourth quarter,” Klieman said. “That’s what we’re asking these guys to do is not make mistakes and make people beat us, and let’s get games to the fourth quarter and see where we’re at.”
Strong and Nevada kept it interesting through the first 40 minutes.
Nevada completed its longest drive in the end zone as Strong found Elijah Cooks with a 14-yard touchdown in front of cornerback Julius Brents to tie it at 17-17 with 4:08 left in the third quarter. It marked just the first time in three red-zone trips that the Wolf Pack scored a touchdown against a K-State defense that spent a majority of the third quarter on the field.
Although K-State took just three offensive snaps during the first 11 minutes of the second half, Howard got the Wildcats rolling in the fourth quarter. He rushed for gains of 19 and 12 yards. Vaughn recorded one catch for 16 yards, then had a 14-yard rush before taking it 11 yards for the go-ahead score at 24-17.
The Wildcats’ defense reciprocated the offense’s effort. The Wolf Pack reached K-State territory but stalled four straight plays as Nate Matlack tackled Strong at the 37 and one yard short of extending the drive on fourth down. Then K-State stopped Nevada on four straight plays on the ensuing drive, with defensive end Bronson Massie and safety Reggie Stubblefield pressuring Strong into an incompletion on fourth-and-4 at the Wolf Pack 31.
Less than 6 minutes later, Howard plowed into the end zone from the 1. A crowd of 48,768 was on hand for the annual Fort Riley Day, in which K-State honors the officers and soldiers stationed just 20 minutes west of Manhattan. The Big Red One presented the Powercat flag at midfield prior to kickoff and the Big Red One Band performed with the K-State marching band at halftime.
As the final seconds rolled off the clock, the marching band played “Happy Trails.”
The tune remains the same for the Wildcats heading into another league season.
“It’s a heck of a win and it’s momentum,” Howard said. “We’re keeping the bus rolling. It’s the ‘revenge tour’ and it’s far from over. We’ll take this momentum. We’re going to put it behind us, and keep rowing, and work our butts off for next week.”