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By D. Scott Fritchen
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman earlier in the week insisted that Tulane was a good team. Unfortunately, the Wildcats found out exactly how good the Green Wave was on Saturday.
Adrian Martinez threw for 150 yards and one touchdown, and Deuce Vaughn added 81 yards on the ground, but the Wildcats found difficulty converting on third and fourth down and an exhausted defense struggled to put the brakes on late in a 17-10 loss to Tulane in front of a sellout crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Despite its challenges, K-State was tied 10-10 heading into the final 5 minutes. However, Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt showed his moxie with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Tyrick James with 4 minutes and 27 seconds remaining. The Wildcats were unable to answer, and the Green Wave took control and converted on fourth-and-1 from their own 24-yard line in the final minute to secure their first win over a Power 5 conference team since 2010.
“Adversity has struck and how are we going to respond to adversity? All of us — players and coaches,” Klieman said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game. Tulane had a chance to beat Oklahoma last year. We knew we had to play really well to beat these guys.
“We played hard, but we didn’t execute very well.”
K-State, 2-1, entered with an 80-8 record against non-conference foes in Manhattan since 1990, and the Wildcats sought their third undefeated non-conference regular season in four years. American Athletic Conference member Tulane improved to 3-0 for the first time since 1998, and gave head coach Willie Fritz the first victory against a Power 5 opponent in his career.
“I feel like some of us came out dead, especially myself,” said K-State safety Kobe Savage, who had a career-high seven tackles and one interception. “I didn’t bring the energy like I should have early on. We definitely have to bring that, especially against OU.”
K-State will begin its Big 12 Conference schedule when it meets No. 6 Oklahoma in a 7 p.m. kickoff on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma.
“This team is resilient,” said Martinez, who completed 21 of 31 passes for 150 yards and threw his first touchdown as a Wildcat while committing no turnovers. “We have a lot of great leaders and a lot of veteran leaders. It’s some adversity. We’re 0-0 in conference play. That’s the next step for us. We’re going to have our eyes set on the next week.
“We know we have a talented squad and one that can bounce back. That’s our focus.”
Although K-State and Tulane both had 336 total yards, both offenses struggled in sustaining drives. Tulane went 1 for 12 on third down while K-State went 2 of 15. The Wildcats also went just 1 of 5 on fourth down. None proved more costly than when the Wildcats faced fourth-and-1 at the Tulane 44-yard line late in the game but were unable to keep alive their drive.
That set up Tulane at its own 48. Pratt rushed for 11 yards, completed a 15-yard pass, then scrambled for 21 yards to the K-State 5. A 1-yard rush by running back Iverson Celestine set up Pratt’s short touchdown pass for a 17-10 lead.
The Wildcats saw their ensuing drive stall and the Green Wave ran out the clock on one of their biggest victories in two decades.
“I feel like we did everything to put ourselves in successful situations,” Vaughn said. “At that point we’ve just got to be able to execute.”
Vaughn had 20 carries for 81 yards, bringing an unfortunate end to his streak of eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games and a streak of nine straight games with a rushing touchdown.
“They played good defense,” Vaughn said. “I’ll give my hats off to those boys. They stayed in their run gaps. They were very patient, safety wise, linebacker wise of filling gaps. That’s one of the things they were saying constantly throughout the game was ‘stay in your gaps, stay in your gaps,’ and they did a really good job.”
Pratt went 13 of 26 for 176 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions while adding a career-high 87 rushing yards on 12 carries for the Green Wave, who suffered a 40-35 loss at No. 2 Oklahoma last season in Norman.
“Their kid was a stud,” Klieman said. “Their quarterback was a stud and they gave it to him and he made the play.”
Tulane struck first when running back Tyjae Spears, playing as Wildcat quarterback, ran one yard into the end zone to cap a 9-play, 91-yard drive with 3:13 left in the first quarter. It was the longest drive allowed by the K-State defense this season and marked the first time the Wildcats trailed by a touchdown.
Martinez and Kade Warner combined to tie the score at 7-7 with 2:43 left in the second quarter when Martinez threw his prettiest and longest pass of the season — a 21-yard completion to high-flying Warner, who hauled into the ball in the corner of the end zone and showed off his strength and concentration by maintaining possession despite being struck by two different defenders on his way to the turf.
Then the K-State defense sprang into action. Pratt threw a dart down the middle of the field that linebacker Daniel Green picked off and returned 49 yards down the Green Wave sideline with 28 seconds remaining in the second quarter. It marked Pratt’s first interception of the season and the second interception by Green in two games.
Martinez took over at the Tulane 23 and got the ball to the 4 before his incompletion through the back of the end zone prompted a Chris Tennant 22-yard field goal as time expired for halftime.
Unfortunately, that marked the final score for the Wildcats, who now have one week to bounce back against the Sooners.
“I have full confidence in all those people downstairs (in the locker room),” Green said. “We’re a family down there. I love those boys. This is a learning experience and a part of football. Adversity comes either early or late in the season, but it’s just a situation where we have to bounce back. So now what? What are we going to do?”