The Kansas State football team won its first conference game under Chris Klieman with a series of clutch plays that would have made Bill Snyder proud.
K-State turned back the clock a bit on offense and leaned heavily on the legs of quarterback Skylar Thompson during a 24-17 victory over TCU on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium.
With the score tied and time running out in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats dialed up three quarterback-keepers that sparked a 95-yard scoring drive and a go-ahead touchdown that was ultimately enough for them to end a two-game losing streak.
The biggest of three QB runs came with the Wildcats (4-2, 1-2 Big 12) pinned in front of their own end zone. On second-and-5 from his own 10, Thompson dropped back as if he intended to pass and then took off on a delayed draw. It was a perfectly designed run. Thompson encountered acres of open space as he passed the line of scrimmage and rumbled down the field for 61 yards.
A few plays later, K-State turned to Thompson again on fourth-and-short. The Wildcats passed up the opportunity to kick a field goal, so a failed conversion would have been disastrous. But Thompson scrambled to his right and dove through defenders hard enough to move the chains.
Then Thompson finished off the drive with another keeper, as he ran in a 3-yard touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 24-17 lead with 2:45 remaining.
The Horned Frogs (3-3, 1-2) had enough time to force overtime, and it seemed like they might do so when they crossed mid-field on a pass to Jalen Reagor. But Wyatt Hubert and the rest of K-State’s defensive line came up with a strong pass rush and forced a turnover on downs.
TCU got the ball back for one final play from its own 23, but the Frogs were unable to do much with their last-gasp opportunity.
It was appropriate that Thompson won the game with his legs, considering TCU tied the game up at 17-17 at the 8:42 mark of the third quarter with a jaw-dropping run from freshman quarterback Max Duggan.
The touchdown run was a meandering jog that spanned 46 yards. On the play, Duggan faked a hand-off to his running back and took off up the middle on a keeper, breaking a series of tackles until he found space in the open field. Then he cut right, stiff-armed defensive back A.J. Parker and dove for the pylon.
It was a terrific run from Duggan that went viral on social media and an embarrassing effort from K-State’s defense, which missed four tackles against a freshman quarterback not known for his running skills. Duggan entered this game with 46 rushing yards on the season.
But the Wildcats responded well enough to win.
K-State’s offense found a rhythm for the first time in weeks, and it got things started when Thompson found tight end Nick Lenners for a 21-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter. The Wildcats benefited from excellent field position on that drive following a blocked punt from Jonathan Alexander, and they took advantage.
Thompson fooled the TCU defense with a play-action fake and then found Lenners wide open in the end zone.
The touchdown gave K-State its biggest lead in a Big 12 game this season and infused some much-needed confidence into the Wildcats’ offense, which struggled to put up points in its first two conference games.
K-State also put together an impressive touchdown drive that spanned 74 yards midway through the second half. After TCU tied the game at 7-7 on an 8-yard run from Sewo Olonilua, the Wildcats pulled back ahead when Thompson hit Wykeen Gill for a 13-yard scoring strike.
On that drive, three of K-State’s plays went for more than 10 yards. Thompson found Dalton Schoen for 25 yards, James Gilbert broke free for an 11-yard run and then Thompson connected with Gill on a well-designed play.
It was a nice step forward for an offense that only had top receiver Malik Knowles on a limited basis and played without up-and-coming playmaker Phillip Brooks for the entire game.
Lenner’s touchdown pass made a big difference. All of a sudden, the Horned Frogs had to respect K-State’s passing game instead of loading up against the run.
The Horned Frogs closed out the scoring in the first half with a field goal from Jonathan Song to make the score 14-10 at the break.
The second half was back and forth until K-State pulled ahead late.
K-State is now back on track for bowl eligibility. It is next in action against Oklahoma.