Down 11 in the fourth quarter of a road game, Kansas State’s third-string quarterback led the Wildcats to a come-from-behind victory that might turn around a frustrating season and propel them to a bowl.
If Skylar Thompson goes on to a have a successful college career, K-State fans will remember a 42-35 overtime victory over Texas Tech on Saturday at AT&T Jones Stadium as the moment it began.
“That kid is just a natural,” K-State running back Dalvin Warmack said. “Most kids in that situation mentally, 19 years old, would have a lot of pressure on his shoulders. But he just came in there so calm, and then he executed.”
Thompson was nails. So much so that it’s difficult to believe the redshirt freshman was playing in just his second meaningful game.
After Texas Tech pulled ahead 35-24 on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Nic Shimonek to T.J. Vasher with 14 minutes, 10 seconds remaining, Thompson guided the Wildcats into field-goal range and Matthew McCrane made it a one-score game. After Texas Tech kicker Clayton Hatfield missed a 31-yard field goal with 3:40 remaining, Thompson drove the Wildcats 80 yards in five plays and found the end zone on a quarterback sneak. Then he hit Dalton Schoen for a two-point conversion to tie the score at 35-35 with 42 seconds left.
Then he gave the Wildcats the lead on a touchdown pass to Byron Pringle in overtime.
K-State’s defense closed out the game with a defensive stop on Texas Tech’s overtime possession, but even those involved with that stand pointed to Thompson as the hero.
As junior defensive back D.J. Reed walked past Thompson outside K-State’s locker room, he stopped and yelled, “You’re a stud, boy!”
Some will push for Thompson to take over as the starting quarterback in future games, regardless of the health of usual starter Jesse Ertz and backup Alex Delton. He had 96 yards and a touchdown passing on top of eight yards and a touchdown rushing. Schoen finished with 103 yards on five catches. Pringle had 95 yards and two touchdowns.
K-State coach Bill Snyder is usually hesitant to start freshmen, especially at quarterback, but Thompson doesn’t feel like a freshman anymore.
“I think I proved that today,” Thompson said. “But that is not what it is all about. I want to win, man. This team deserves it. We have been through so much this year. For us to catch a break and get a win, that is all I want. That’s it.”
Victory seemed far-fetched throughout the second half, as Texas Tech rolled up yards and touchdowns. Shimonek threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns, connecting with Keke Coutee 12 times for 189 yards and two scores. Even a pick six from K-State defensive back Duke Shelley did little to slow the Red Raiders.
When they led 35-27 and held the ball in field-goal range late in the fourth quarter, ESPN’s win predictor gave Texas Tech a 99.1 percent chance at coming out on top.
The Wildcats weren’t fazed. The missed field goal changed the odds.
“That is probably one of the funnest games I have ever been a part of,” Thompson said. “It’s something I have dreamed about since I was a little kid. Just to get that under my belt, being under pressure like that in the fourth quarter, should be a great tool for me going forward.”
Thompson’s heroics made it a memorable day after it seemed destined to end as a frustrating afternoon of what ifs.
Penalties nullified three touchdowns for the Wildcats, while a questionable no-call and a missed tackle helped the Red Raiders twice reach the end zone. For most of the game, it appeared those pivotal plays would lead to a Texas Tech victory, But K-State had other plans.
The Wildcats (5-4, 3-3 Big 12) won arguably their biggest game of the season, while the Red Raiders (4-5, 1-5) lost another heartbreaker.
“The important thing is our youngsters proved that they could do that,” Snyder said. “It wasn’t just offense scoring a touchdown. It wasn’t just the defense holding them on the last couple drives. It was a collective effort ... It was a team victory.”
K-State looked strong on offense in the first half behind Delton, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 23 yards, but things changed in the second half when he was unable to continue following some hard hits.
Thompson finished strong, but he had troubles in the third quarter as Texas Tech dominated.
The final moments will likely haunt Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. He chose to take a knee with 42 seconds remaining in regulation rather than play for the win. The Red Raiders suffered another second-half collapse.
“There’s something going on. There’s no question,” Kingsbury said of his team’s mentality. “To not be able to get this one done, we’ve got to play with more confidence late in games.… We haven’t closed out games the entire season.”
That hasn’t been a problem for Thompson.
K-State has twice called upon him to win games on the road, and he has delivered two victories. His future seems bright.
KST—FG McCrane 45, 9:22
KST—Warmack 15 run (McCrane kick), 12:18
TT—King 25 run (Hatfield kick), 9:40
KST—Pringle 19 pass from Delton (McCrane kick), 7:36
TT—Coutee 75 pass from Shimonek (Hatfield kick), 7:26
TT—Coutee 34 pass from Shimonek (Hatfield kick), 12:59
KST—Shelley 25 interception return (McCrane kick), 11:32
TT—Cantrell 1 pass from Shimonek (Hatfield kick), 5:00
TT—Vasher 22 pass from Shimonek (Hatfield kick), 14:10
KST—FG McCrane 30, 9:10
KST—S.Thompson 1 run (Schoen pass from S.Thompson), :42
KST—Pringle 8 pass from S.Thompson (McCrane kick), :00
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Kansas St., Silmon 2-45, A.Barnes 10-45, Warmack 7-26, Delton 10-23, S.Thompson 6-8, (Team) 1-(minus 2). Texas Tech, King 16-71, Stockton 10-30, Shimonek 5-21.
PASSING—Kansas St., Delton 13-20-1-167, S.Thompson 5-8-0-96. Texas Tech, Shimonek 34-53-1-405.
RECEIVING—Kansas St., Pringle 6-95, Schoen 5-103, Zuber 4-65, Heath 2-11, Delton 1-(minus 11). Texas Tech, Coutee 12-189, Cantrell 8-99, Batson 7-46, Vasher 5-58, King 2-13.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Texas Tech, Hatfield 31.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett