By D. Scott Fritchen
WACO, Texas – Will Howard came off the sideline to throw for 186 yards and three touchdowns, and Deuce Vaughn had 104 rushing yards to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the season, as No. 19 Kansas State raced past Baylor, 31-3, to move into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 Conference at sold-out McLane Stadium.
Howard was thrust into the game early and instantly shifted K-State into gear, as the Wildcats methodically took apart the Bears’ defense to snap a four-game skid in the series and stamp their first victory in Waco since 2016.
K-State’s response to being in second place in the league standings? There’s still more to go.
“It doesn’t change anything for us,” Howard said. “I feel like we’re not really trying to think of things that way. We know that we have two games on our schedule, and we know that we control our own destiny.
“All we can do is focus on those two games and win them and see what happens and go from there. We’re in a good spot, I know that. We just have to put our heads and down focus on the task at hand.”
K-State, 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Big 12, did so emphatically against Baylor, which entered averaging 38.3 points per game.
Consider K-State held Baylor to its fewest points in series history, one that spans 20 games.
Baylor’s three points also marked the fewest K-State has allowed Big 12 opponent on the road since a 45-0 win at Iowa State on November 8, 2003. Furthermore, Baylor’s three points also tied for the fewest points by either K-State or Baylor in a series that dates to 1969.
K-State controlled the game in all three phases, rolled to a 17-3 halftime lead, and then took care of the rest over the final two quarters.
“It was a dominant performance,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “I don’t know what to say about this group. They’re a resilient bunch.”
K-State players entered the game with a chip on their shoulders coming off a 34-27 loss at home to Texas and wasted no time in taking out their frustration on the Bears.
“We sat in the locker room after a tough loss to Texas and I told the guys to rise up, and our seniors came along and said we have to rise up, and we had a really good week of preparation,” Klieman said. “This is a really good team and it’s hard to win here.”
K-State entered Saturday tied with Baylor and No. 18 Texas for second place in the Big 12. K-State’s win coupled with No. 4 TCU’s 17-10 victory over Texas allowed the Wildcats to move past the Bears and Longhorns alone in second place.
The Bears saw their three-game winning streak swiftly come to an end as the Wildcats took control early and never looked back. K-State outgained Baylor 405-306 in total offense, as the Bears, 6-4 and 4-3, suffered their worst loss since a 42-3 defeat to No. 22 Oklahoma State on December 12, 2020.
“I have so much respect for Dave Aranda,” Klieman said. “I think he’s one of the best coaches in college football and sets the standard a little bit. He just does things with complementary football.
“We knew this: We had to play well in all three phases, possess the ball and take away the ball, and it couldn’t have scripted it any better as far as how that first half went.”
Howard guided an offense behind a methodical attack with three scoring drives of at least 11 plays. K-State dictated the game from start to finish while holding onto the ball for 37 minutes and 37 seconds.
Howard’s favorite target was tight end Ben Sinnott, who had the best game of his career, lighting up the Bears’ secondary twice for touchdowns, and forcing defenders to try and defend him while Vaughn picked apart the defense on the ground.
“I’m so happy for Will,” Sinnott said. “He’s one of my best friends and I know how much he prepares. Even if he doesn’t think he’s going to be the one out there, he studies, and knows exactly what to do when his time comes.
“Obviously, he takes advantage of it.”
Sinnott had seven catches for 89 yards with touchdown catches of 15 and 19 yards. Sinnott’s second touchdown came when he beat fifth-year senior safety Christian Morgan on a wheel route and made a leaping back-shoulder catch near the front pylon for his second touchdown of the game late in the third quarter for a 24-3 lead.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to get the ball on that play,” Sinnott said. “I ran as hard as I could and tried to get past the guy playing man on me, turned around, and the ball was on the way back shoulder and it was perfect placement. It was pretty exciting.”
When Howard wasn’t connecting with Sinnott, he was finding Vaughn in space. Vaughn had 25 carries for 106 yards and added eight catches for 50 yards and one touchdown.
Redshirt freshman running back DJ Giddens scored a touchdown of his own with 14:06 left in the fourth quarter and the party was on.
“A lot of guys in the locker room had never beaten Baylor so it was great to come down here and do it at their place,” Sinnott said, “and silence the 50,000 in the crowd.”
Blake Shapen, who came off the sideline to lead Baylor to a 20-10 win over K-State last season, was largely ineffective against K-State’s defense. Shapen went 22 of 38 for 203 yards and two interceptions. Running back Richard Reese, one of the top freshman running backs in the nation, had nine carries for 54 yards.
Kobe Savage and Drake Cheatum took turns intercepting Shapen. The Wildcats now lead the Big 12 with 13 interceptions this season.
Meanwhile, the Bears went just 4-for-12 on third down and went 0-for-3 on fourth down after entering Saturday as one of the national leaders in fourth-down conversions. The Bears were totally limited and held the ball for just 22:23 — a fact that wasn’t lost on K-State players.
“I couldn’t believe that,” defensive tackle Eli Huggins said. “Going into this game, that was something we were definitely concerned about just the way Baylor plays ball and typically has the ball for really long drives and going for it on fourth down so often. That’s huge.
“That was definitely a main part of why we were so successful.”
It’s not too often that a team loses one Big 12 Player of the Week quarterback and replaces him with another Big 12 Player of the Week quarterback, but that’s what took place with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter when Martinez was slow to get up with an apparent right leg injury during the Wildcats’ second drive of the game. Martinez was 7 of 8 passing for 25 yards prior to going to the sideline.
Prior to Martinez’s injury, Vaughn eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on a seven-yard run, becoming just the third player in K-State history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in multiple seasons.
Enter Howard. Howard drove the Wildcats the rest of the way and hit Sinnott with a pair of passes of 23 yards and a 15-yard touchdown across the middle of the end zone for a 7-0 lead. It ended a 12-play, 97-yard drive, which marked the longest drive of the season for the Wildcats.
“(Martinez’s departure) happened pretty early in the game so I was still good from warmup,” Howard said. “I’m getting kind of used to this at this point. It’s happened a couple times. It’s my job, so I just have to be ready for it.”
When Baylor couldn’t move the ball against the Wildcats’ defense, the Bears, one of the national leaders on fourth down attempts, were forced to punt. Howard and the Wildcats responded with another 12-play drive, this one covering 47 yards, which ended with Ty Zentner nailing a career-high 31-yard field-goal attempt for a 10-0 advantage.
Once again, K-State’s defense stifled the Bears. Once again, the Wildcats’ offense responded. This time, Vaughn touched the ball four times — runs of 10 and 11 yards, and he caught a 11-yard pass before hauling in another catch and taking it 20 yards into the end zone, juking Bears defenders along the way.
It wasn’t until Baylor’s final drive of the first half that the Bears got onto the scoreboard. John Mayers capped an 11-play, 56-yard drive with a 37-yard field goal as time expired, and the Wildcats went into the locker room with a 17-3 lead.
“There’s no such thing as a good half, you have to play the whole game, so it was 0-0 after halftime,” Sinnott said, “and we wanted to keep our foot on the pedal.”
Now the Wildcats are zooming toward a potential spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.
“So excited that our guys played their tails off,” Klieman said. “We’re going to celebrate this win.”