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By D. Scott Fritchen
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Adrian Martinez accounted for 381 total yards and three touchdowns and No. 13 Kansas State battled back from a 21-point deficit to provide a nail-biting finish against Texas, but a turnover with 24 seconds left sealed the Wildcats’ fate in a 34-27 loss in front of a sellout crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Martinez threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns and one interception, but the senior transfer quarterback appeared to try to do too much when he checked down on his progression in the pocket and tried to make a play late. Keondre Coburn stripped the ball and Jaylan Ford recovered at the Texas 39-yard line to thwart the Wildcats’ chances to tie the game and match the largest comeback in school history.
“Probably a little bit of trying to do too much,” Martinez said. “I got it batted away.”
K-State, 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big 12 Conference, suffered its sixth-straight loss to Texas, 6-3 and 4-2, and saw sole possession of second place in the league standings batted away. K-State now shares second place with Texas and Baylor, which the Wildcats face next Saturday in Waco.
“(Our players) are down for sure,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “We’ve got a bunch of kids that want to win and have a chance to play in December. We’ve got great character in that room and really good leaders. We’ve got to bounce back. It doesn’t get any easier.”
It certainly wasn’t easy against the Longhorns.
Texas took a 31-10 lead into halftime behind a dominant rushing attack before the Wildcats began their charge. K-State gave up its most first-half points of the season, then outscored the Longhorns, 17-3, in the final two quarters.
Texas came off a bye week following a loss to Oklahoma State in which it squandered a 31-17 lead against the Cowboys. The Longhorns were able to bounce back behind the legs of All-America candidate Bijan Robinson, who gashed the Wildcats for 209 rushing yards on 30 carries and one touchdown.
K-State had an ace of its own in returning Consensus All-American Deuce Vaughn, who had 19 carries for 73 yards. He tied Saquan Barkley of Penn State as the fastest Power 5 player to reach 3,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards since 1996. Both did so in just 32 games. Vaughn, who has 3,021 career rushing yards, also moved past John Hubert into No. 2 all-time at K-State, trailing only Darren Sproles.
Vaughn also had seven catches for 86 yards and one touchdown, racing into the end zone on a 28-yard catch-and-run play for the Wildcats’ opening score. However, those feats were bittersweet.
“We had a lot of execution (issues) on our part that needs to be handled,” Vaughn said, “and that’s for all of us, myself included.”
K-State, which saw Texas score on each of its first three possessions and score on five of its first six, mounted a valiant comeback behind the arm and legs of Martinez, who rushed for a 1-yard score and hit a wide-open Kade Warner for a 25-yard touchdown across the middle of the field to slice its deficit to 31-24.
“I was open enough,” Warner said. “When you have Adrian back there, you’re always open. He made a fantastic throw.”
It was Martinez’s first action since leaving after just the opening series of a 38-28 loss at No. 8 TCU on October 22 with an apparent leg injury. Junior Will Howard started in a 48-0 shutout win over No. 9 Oklahoma State last Saturday.
“I’m really happy to be back and thankful for this opportunity,” Martinez said. “Getting back on the field doing what I love is something to be thankful for.”
Martinez and K-State are thankful for another opportunity to play on. The Wildcats finish out their regular season at Baylor and at West Virginia before facing Kansas in Manhattan. They are still in contention for a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.
“We expect to win,” Martinez said, “so anytime you lose, there’s disappointment, and we all understand that. (Klieman) spoke about the character of this team and how we bounced back in this football game and didn’t quit. We’re going to use that moving forward, and next week, and understand in this league, shoot, every game is a fight. Obviously, we have a big one against Baylor and our minds will be on that come Sunday and Monday.”
K-State spent its first half with its mind on halting Texas.
K-State outgained Texas, 468-466, for the game but never led on the scoreboard in a matchup that pitted Robinson against Vaughn. Robinson started things off with a 36-yard touchdown run and Vaughn answered with his long touchdown catch before the Longhorns pulled ahead and the Wildcats were forced to play catchup the rest of the way.
“They had a really good plan and executed it well in the first half,” Klieman said. “It took us a while to make our adjustments, but I’m proud of our guys and the resolve they showed. I told our guys in the locker room after the game that we’re a team of extremely high-character guys and great leadership within that room to give us a chance to have the football with under 2 minutes left to have a chance to tie after how the first half went. That’s a credit to our guys.
“We didn’t play very well in the first half, especially on defense. We struggled to get stops, we couldn’t tackle Robinson. He’s a terrific, terrific back.”
K-State’s up-and-down night began from the start as the Longhorns scored touchdowns on each of their first three possessions — a 36-yard rush by Robinson, a 9-yard run by Roschon Johnson and a 13-yard reception by Xavier Worthy to cap scoring drives that each covered 75 yards.
The Wildcats initially fired back with a seven-play, 65-yard drive in which Martinez hit Vaughn across the middle for a 28-yard catch-and-run score, which tied the score at 7-7 with 8:41 left in the first quarter, but for as much as the Wildcats scratched, their deficit continued to swell.
K-State trailed 21-10 after Texas’ first three possessions. Just when it appeared Texas might add onto its lead, Ekow Boye-Doe stripped the ball from Johnson as he raced down the sideline for a potential touchdown.
However, the Wildcats fell short in their attempt to capitalize off the miscue, and saw their drive stall on fourth down at the Texas 16-yard line. Martinez threw a perfect pass to Phillip Brooks but cornerback Jahdae Barron caused an incompletion in the back corner of the end zone.
Texas struck again, this time with Robinson skating 68 yards down the Wildcats’ sideline on a 3rd-and-3 play from his own 23-yard line. That set up a 28-yard field goal by Bert Auburn.
Martinez threw his first interception of the season two plays later — 155 consecutive passes without a pick to start a season, a school record — and with less than a minute remaining until halftime. It was just enough time for the Longhorns to walk the ball down the field 27 yards, ending with quarterback Quinn Ewers hitting Worthy with a 3-yard touchdown catch, and K-State trailed 31-10 going into the locker room.
“We’ve got to be able to own this — we made some mistakes as coaches and probably as players — and learn from it, and come back ready to go on Monday,” Klieman said.
“I’m proud of our guys. We have a lot of football in front of us and a lot of story left to write with this team.”