Wildcats Silence No. 6 Oklahoma in Big 12 Opener

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By D. Scott Fritchen

NORMAN, Okla. – Kansas State players said that they were hungry after ending their non-conference slate with a loss. The Wildcats opened their Big 12 Conference season by taking a bite out of a familiar foe in record-setting style.

Adrian Martinez threw for 234 yards and one touchdown and added 21 carries for 148 yards and four touchdowns, while Deuce Vaughn added 25 carries for 116 yards, as K-State vaulted past No. 6 Oklahoma, 41-34, in front of a sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma on Saturday.

It marked the most points K-State has ever scored in Norman in a series that began in 1908.

It also marked the third time in four meetings that K-State, 3-1 and 1-0, beat Oklahoma, 3-1 and 0-1. That includes the second straight time in Norman, where the Sooners are usually infallible, yet saw their mystique crack at the hands of Martinez & Co., who spoiled the first Big 12 game for Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables in his first game against his alma mater.

“What a great effort for four quarters,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “We didn’t have a letdown. We knew there were going to be some ups and downs, but we talked about putting the foot on the gas, and believing we were a better football team, and believing in each other, and we were going to go against 84,000-plus against the 70 that we brought, and it was good enough if our kids continued to believe and make plays.

“And they did.”

Since 1999, Oklahoma has won two more Big 12 (14) championships than it has lost home games (12) — and four of those losses have been to K-State, which opened the league season on the road for the 22nd time in 27 years, yet looked plenty at home in dropping the Sooners to 54-9 in regular season Big 12 play since the start of the 2015 season.

“We will not be defined by this loss moving forward,” Venables said. “We will, however, be defined by how we respond moving forward, and I believe with everything I’ve got in this team and what still sitts in front of us.”

K-State came off a disheartening 17-10 home loss to Tulane, and like so many times before, the Wildcats were written off against Oklahoma long before kickoff. K-State coaches and players were undaunted in preparing for the nationally televised showdown.

“We went all-in into practices every day and really just balled out, and made sure we made no mistakes and played the way we did today,” K-State wide receiver Malik Knowles said. “You can’t ask for anything better.”

Martinez, who threw for nearly 300 yards against Oklahoma last season when he played at Nebraska, was amazing in his first Big 12 game as a Wildcat, engineering five touchdown drives, including two in the fourth quarter when the Sooners tried to keep up on the scoreboard.

Although Martinez didn’t unleash the fury during the non-conference season — he threw for 304 yards in three games against South Dakota, Missouri and Tulane — he essentially looked like he picked up where he left off at Nebraska. He entered the season as one of just two FBS quarterbacks to throw for 8,000 yards and rush for 2,000 more in a career.

He was on fire against the Sooners.

As for where this victory ranks in his career?

“Without a doubt, this is No. 1,” Martinez said. “It’s still registering with me right now, just coming to that realization that it’s real, we played to the best of our abilities tonight, and we took it to them. It’s without a doubt my favorite game of all time.”

K-State never trailed. It stormed to a 14-0 lead when Martinez completed a 6-yard scoring toss to Knowles, then took a 24-17 lead into the locker room, then led 27-20 after three quarters, and led 41-27 with 1 minute, 58 seconds remaining.

In a game that was projected to be a defensive battle, K-State and Oklahoma combined for 75 points and 1,059 total yards.

Chris Kleiman improved to 3-1 against Oklahoma, winning 48-41 in 2019 in Manhattan, 38-35 in 2020 in Norman, then losing 37-31 last season before giving K-State its ninth victory over a Top 10 team since 2000 — four of which are against Oklahoma.

K-State outgained Oklahoma 550 to 509. The Wildcats launched a balanced attack — 275 rushing yards and 234 passing — against a Venables-led defense that entered among the fiercest in the FBS. The Wildcats ranked 13th in scoring defense and 20th in total defense in the FBS and proved they could go toe-to-toe against an Oklahoma offense that ranked 20th in scoring offense and 17th in total offense. Back and forth the teams battled, but the Wildcats kept the Sooners out of the end zone on five straight drives in the second half.

“Everybody contributed. It was so much fun to watch those guys,” Klieman said. “The third quarter took forever, but they only got 3.”

Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel completed 26 of 39 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns and added seven carries for 61 yards. He threw back-to-back long touchdowns to Theo Wease (56 yards) and Marvin Mims (50) to tie the score at 14-14. Running back Eric Gray had 16 carries for 114 yards.

Martinez struck first and instantly showed flashes of his old self while using his arm and legs on a game-opening 12-play, 75-yard charge. He hit Ben Sinnott with two passes and Kade Warner with another, and rushed four times for 29 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.

“We won the toss and took the ball, and I really wanted to get Adrian off to a good start,” Klieman said. “I believe in that kid, I think the kid is a winner, and our players believe in him. I thought his start was really good.”

Sinnott had career highs with four catches for 80 yards. Phillip Brooks had seven catches for 56 yards. Knowles had four catches for 52 yards and one touchdown.

The Wildcats went 80 yards in seven plays for a 14-0 lead. Martinez completed two passes of 20-plus yards and called his own number on a 2-yard run before hitting Knowles with a 6-yard touchdown. It marked Martinez’s second touchdown pass of the season and the first touchdown reception by ultra-dangerous Knowles.

Oklahoma found itself facing its greatest deficit of the season. And less than 10 minutes had expired in the first quarter.

K-State outgained Oklahoma 152-18 by the time the Sooners began their third possession. But Oklahoma quickly responded when Gabriel hit Wease with a 56-yard catch-and-run score to cut the Wildcats’ advantage to 14-7 with 2:32 left in the first quarter. It marked the longest completion K-State had allowed this season.

Two drives later, Gabriel showed off his arm again. This time he hit Mims down the sideline for a 50-yard touchdown to knot the score at 14-14. The sellout crowd was on its feet, K-State faced a battle, but the Wildcats stiffened and held the Sooners to a 41-yard field goal on their next drive.

“We held them to a field goal, we bent a couple times and caused them to punt a couple times in their territory,” Klieman said. “We came up with some big-time plays.”

K-State answered behind the arm of Martinez and the legs of Vaughn. Martinez completed a 19-yard pass to Brooks to start off the Wildcats’ final drive of the first half, then Vaughn took care of the rest with a 22-yard run and three more short-distances carries to set up a Chris Tennant 23-yard-field goal as time expired for halftime.

K-State’s 24 points in the first half marked its most in the opening two quarters against Oklahoma in Norman since the Wildcats also scored 21 points in 2014.

K-State outgained Oklahoma 279-227 in the first half. Martinez completed 11 of 18 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown and added 14 carries for 70 yards and two scores on the ground — already eclipsing his total offense numbers from any of his games in the non-conference schedule. Vaughn had 16 carries for 80 yards in the first half.

The Sooners came roaring back to keep things interesting down the stretch. They scored their final touchdown on a 10-yard reception by Brayden Willis with 35 seconds left, but Warner recovered the onside kick, and it was party time for the Wildcats.

K-State faces Texas Tech on Saturday in Manhattan.

“I’m going to enjoy the heck out of this win,” Klieman said, “and not worry about Texas Tech until tomorrow.”