By D. Scott Fritchen
AUSTIN, Texas – In one of the most valiant comeback efforts in Kansas State history, the Wildcats stormed back from a 20-point second-half deficit to force overtime and fell just four yards from victory in a 33-30 loss to No. 7 Texas in front of 102,846 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
The 23rd-ranked Wildcats stormed back from a 27-7 deficit with 4 minutes, 13 seconds left in the third quarter to tie the game at 27-27 with 12:37 left. The teams were knotted up 30-30 following a 45-yard field goal by Chris Tennant to force an extra period.
After Bert Auburn made a 42-yarder to make it 33-30 in Texas’ first overtime possession, Will Howard took the Wildcats to the 4-yard line. When it became decision time, head coach Chris Klieman opted to go for the win. Unfortunately, Howard’s fourth-down pass attempt fell short, ending one of the best games in the Big 12 Conference this season.
“We didn’t come here to keep playing for ties,” Klieman said. “We came here to try and win the game.”
It was touted as the Big 12 game of the year prior to the season. Texas was picked first in Big 12 preseason poll and the defending Big 12 Champions were picked second.
This showdown lived up to its billing.
“Our guys knew this was going to be a four-quarter battle,” Klieman said. “And it was. And then some.”
Howard completed 26-of-42 passes for a career-high 327 yards with a school record-tying four touchdowns to go along with one interception. He threw two touchdowns to Phillip Brooks and one scoring toss to Keagan Johnson and Jayce Brown.
“We weren’t able to rush the football, so we had to throw the ball,” Klieman said. “When we had to throw the ball, those guys made plays. Will hung in the pocket and got hit a number of times but made plays. When all those guys are healthy – and they were today – we can do some good things in the throwing game.”
Cornerback Jacob Parrish intercepted two passes, including one inside the red zone as the Wildcats, 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big 12, clawed back into the game.
K-State came oh so close. Klieman indicated he was going to stay aggressive in overtime.
“We were going to go for (the touchdown),” Klieman said. “If they scored and we would’ve scored, we were going to go for two. It was really warm down here. We were running out of guys a little bit so to speak.”
He added: “Collin (Klein) liked the call. The offensive line and Will liked what we had. They made a play.”
Texas, 8-1 and 5-1, scored touchdowns on two of its first three drives and took a 17-0 lead before Howard completed a six-yard scoring strike to Brooks with 54 seconds to go until halftime.
Then the Longhorns capitalized off a lost fumble and booted a 49-yard field goal to take a 27-7 lead in the third quarter.
K-State had two bad breaks to start the second half. First, Howard threw a deep pass to Johnson that ricocheted off his hands and into the hands of safety Michael Taaffe on the second play of the third quarter.
K-State’s second possession ended when Ethan Burke sack-stripped Howard and Jaylan Ford recovered the football at the 5. Jonathon Brooks scored on the next play for a 24-7 lead.
Early on, Wildcats simply struggled to move the ball or stop the Longhorns, who are off to their best start since 2009. Then the Wildcats bounced back.
Texas outgained K-State, 478-360.
Despite falling behind, the Wildcats continued to fight. In fact, they had their longest possession of the game after the Longhorns went ahead by 20 points. Howard led an 8-play, 75-yard charge for a touchdown. He connected with Johnson twice for gains of 15 and 20 yards before Brooks caught a short pass and ran 26 yards into the end zone to cut it to a 27-14 deficit.
Then Parrish, who had two interceptions in the game, intercepted a screen pass. Parrish got hit and fumbled, but Colby McCalister recovered the ball at the Texas 12.
K-State struck immediately. Howard floated a pass across the middle to Johnson, who snagged the ball at the 6 and raced into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown. Suddenly K-State trailed, 27-21, with 13:33 left in the game in front of a hushed crowd.
Two plays later, Brendan Mott ripped the ball out from the grasp of Brooks and Will Lee III recovered at the Texas 32.
Howard immediately threw a play-action pass to Brown, who got in front of Terrance Brooks for a 32-yard touchdown. However, an error by the extra-point unit allowed the score to remain tied at 27-27 with 12:37 remaining.
Texas answered with a 14-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a 34-yard field goal by Burt Auburn. That made it 30-27 with 6:03 to go.
K-State’s attempt to tie the game fell just short as Chris Tennant saw his 27-yard field goal attempt sail just wide left with 1:45 left.
Tennant came back on the next possession and made his 45-yarder to send the game to an extra period.
The Wildcats kept battling.
“Absolutely. He did a good job,” Klieman said. “Wish we would’ve had the other one — didn’t happen. Wish we’d had the extra point — didn’t happen. That’s part of the game. That’s a part of football. That’s why you just keep fighting and keep battling.
“Guys, we were down 17-0 and did nothing right in the first half and got to 17-7. Then we’re down 27-7 doing nothing right and end up having a tie at 27. These kids busted their tail. Our guys have great resolve.”
K-State allowed its first touchdown in nine quarters when Adonai Mitchell got behind Parrish on skinny post for a 37-yard touchdown with 8:36 left in the first quarter.
On the Wildcats’ next defensive effort, they allowed a 47-yard reception by Mitchell, but their impressive red-zone touchdown defense accepted a tough challenge. Texas ran five plays inside the 20-yard line but were unable to get the football into the end zone. The Longhorns’ 9-play, 79-yard drive resulted in a 32-yard field goal by Auburn.
Explosive plays hurt the Wildcats in the first half and the Longhorns found success on the next drive, as CJ Baxter rushed around the right side 54 yards for a touchdown on a 4th-and-1 play for a 17-0 lead with 11:34 to go before halftime.
K-State trailed in total offense 303-31 when it turned the corner. K-State gained just 31 yards on its first 23 plays, but that changed as, after Shane Porter blocked a punt, the Wildcats went on a 4-play, 42-yard scoring drive.
Howard sat in the pocket and calmly hit Brown with a sideline pass for 28 yards to the Texas 11. Two plays later, Howard hit Brooks with a beautiful touchdown pass, as Brooks ran an out pattern over safety Jerrin Thompson and made the six-yard catch.
That proved to be the final score of the first half as K-State trailed, 17-7.
Klieman said that he challenged his players at halftime.
“We needed to win the line of scrimmage more on offense and defense,” he said. “Then we started to play a little bit better. We started to manufacture some things and started to apply a little bit more pressure, and we started to find some guys open. We started to pressure the quarterback and he threw a couple picks. It was little things like that.”
Little things that added to a big comeback.
“They busted their tail and they’re hurting. We’re all going to hurt over this one for the next 24 hours. That’s the greatest thing about the game of football. You’ve got to regroup and be ready to play the next week.”
K-State finishes its regular season against Baylor, at Kansas, and against Iowa State.
“Our guys have great resolve,” Klieman said. “We hear a lot of times about how great other programs are, and Texas is really, really good. But you know what? K-State is pretty good, too.”