MEMPHIS, Tenn. – No. 21 Navy scored on one trick play in the third quarter and used another to convert a fourth-down to set up a game-winning 23-yard field goal with two seconds left in regulation to beat K-State (8-5), 20-17, in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Tuesday in front of 50,515 fans.
“Give them credit. They pulled out a couple trick plays at the right times and they made those plays,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “That’s what the game’s about, making plays.”
After K-State tied the game at 17 with 5:14 left, Navy started to make those plays. They converted two third downs before the Wildcats stonewalled a Midshipmen third-and-3 attempt at K-State’s 46-yard line with less than a minute left in regulation.
On fourth down, Navy running back CJ Williams took a pitch to the right side of the field on what looked like a normal sweep play. That was until he pulled up and hit Chance Warren down the sideline for a 41-yard completion.
Bijan Nichols, who finished the game 2-for-3 on field goals, nailed the game winner two plays later after K-State called its final three timeouts.
The halfback pass marked the second successful trick play from Navy. Coming out of halftime in a 10-all tie, the Midshipmen capped their first drive of the second half with a 20-yard touchdown run on a reverse to Warren.
“Our guy’s in man coverage and he’s got to chase it down from the other side and they cut him off. That’s a really good call,” Klieman said. “Once again, you just have to give those guys credit. They called it at the right time.”
The Wildcats got going on offense just in time to keep their chances of winning alive. Their game-tying drive in the fourth quarter of seven plays, 79 yards nearly doubled the team’s total offense up to that point (83 yards).
“They did have us out of rhythm. They had a good game plan for us. They did a good job of mixing up their looks, showing it from one way and coming from another way and playing some different looks behind it that I wasn’t really expecting,” Thompson, named K-State’s Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game, said. “It was just a matter of time. I just kept telling my guys, ‘It’s just a matter of time. We’re going to get it clicking. We’re going to get it going. We just have to keep believing, keep trusting one another.’ On that drive we scored a touchdown, that’s exactly what happened.”
Thompson went 3-for-3 through the air for 66 yards on the drive, highlighted by a 42-yard strike down the middle of the field to Wykeen Gill, who had a 15-yard catch the play before. Thompson scored two plays later on a sneak up the middle, giving life to a K-State team that spent most of the night defending Navy’s potent triple-option offense.
“It was a great drive. We were able to get some rhythm and we were able to pick up some of the pressure. They pressured us an awful lot,” Klieman said. “We were able to pick some things up. I was pleased that Wykeen Gill made a couple of really nice plays on the drive and we were able to get some rhythm. That score got us back to a tie and, in reality, we probably shouldn’t have been tied. They had really outplayed us in that second half but, lo and behold, we’re in a tie game.”
The Midshipmen possessed the ball for 36:31 of the game, thanks in large part to their 323 rushing yards. Senior quarterback Malcom Perry accounted for 213 of those rushing yards on 28 carries. Perry, named the Liberty Bowl’s Most Valuable Player, also went 5-of-7 through the air for 57 yards and a 27-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
“He’s a great athlete,” Elijah Sullivan, tabbed K-State’s Outstanding Defensive Player of the Game after posting 11 tackles, said of Perry. “Hats off to him. He’s quick, fast and runs their whole offense. He’s the leader of their offense. Everything runs through him.”
K-State missed a few opportunities to score on its opening drive, as an underthrown pass and a drop on consecutive plays ended it. The Wildcats first found the end zone on a 66-yard punt return from Phillip Brooks to take a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. Blake Lynch nailed a 39-yard field goal late in the half to even the game going into the locker room.
The Wildcats only got one possession in the third quarter, however, and it went backwards 11 yards after an errant snap derailed the drive.
“It’s frustrating but, at the same time, it’s a good opportunity to grow and learn from it and have a spark lit inside of us for next year,” Thompson said. “We’ll be ready to go.”