Kansas State’s 27-24 loss against Texas on Saturday at Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium could be classified as the first missed opportunity of the Chris Klieman era.
The Wildcats dominated the first quarter and threatened to take a late lead. But they weren’t as good as the Longhorns when things mattered most and lost an important game that likely removes them from the Big 12 championship race.
“It stinks to lose,” Klieman said. “There’s no moral victories, guys are hurting. But I’m proud of the way the guys fought and battled. We need to bounce back and have a great week of prep and get ready for the next one.”
No. 20 K-State (6-3, 3-3 Big 12) was unable to take advantage of a dream start in which it outplayed Texas (6-3, 4-2) in every way possible while building a 14-0 lead. The Wildcats came into this game with brilliant strategy on both sides of the ball, but they couldn’t execute for a full game. The Longhorns made quality adjustments and reeled off 24 straight points to take control.
K-State fought back to tie things up at the 6:45 mark of the fourth quarter before Texas held the ball for the remainder of the game and eventually won on a last-second field goal from Cameron Dicker.
“It’s a tough loss, especially when you match up with a team you think you can beat,” freshman K-State receiver Joshua Youngblood said after returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. “That’s really it. It’s just a tough loss. You hate to lose, period. But when you lose like that at the last second it’s just tough.”
It was most certainly a frustrating defeat for the Wildcats, who entered this game as one of the hottest teams in the conference having won three straight games to climb all the way up to No. 16 in the first playoff rankings of the season.
Victory was there for the taking, as Skylar Thompson threw for a career high 253 yards and two touchdowns, but the Wildcats couldn’t make quite as many big plays as Texas down the stretch. Sam Ehlinger led the Longhorns with 303 total yards and a touchdown.
“It could hae been a really, really bad scene in (the stadium),” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “But the win is obviously very important for us and what we wanted to accomplish.”
K-State looked like the better team in the first half.
Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham dialed up a creative play on the opening drive of the game that resulted in a 70-yard catch and run touchdown for redshirt freshman receiver Malik Knowles.
The Wildcats found all kinds of space for Knowles by shifting him from the right side of the field into the backfield. The Longhorns didn’t adjust on defense as Knowles ran a short route in the flats, made a Texas safety miss and then beat everyone on the field to the end zone.
Just like that, K-State was off to an early 7-0 lead.
The Wildcats had an excellent strategy for the first quarter. Texas stacked defenders in the box and made an effort to prevent K-State from running the ball between the tackles. Skylar Thompson responded by throwing the ball like a pro and completing 13 of 17 passes for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
His second scoring pass went to Wykeen Gill on a 19-year route midway through the first quarter that gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead.
It seemed like the Wildcats were well on their way to winning their first game in Austin since 2011. But the Longhorns weren’t going to let them win this game without a fight.
Texas answered back with an 80-yard touchdown drive early in the second quarter that was capped with a flea-flicker touchdown pass from Sam Ehlinger to Collin Johnson.
K-State had to work hard to stay in the lead as the first half came to a close. The Wildcats uncharacteristically lost a turnover in Longhorns territory when Mason Barta fumbled the ball after a short pass.
The Longhorns had two opportunities to tie the game before halftime, but the Wildcats held firm on both drives and went into the locker room with a 14-7 lead.
The second half belonged to Texas. The Longhorns scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the third quarter with a 34-yard run from Keaontay Ingram and then took a 17-14 lead on a Dicker field goal late in the third quarter.
Texas appeared to be in complete control when Ingram found the end zone on a 12-yard run with 12:17 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Longhorns a 24-14 lead. They had scored 24 straight points.
“We were kind of on our heels a little bit trying to stop some of the RPO game by doubling the big receiver that was such a talented guy,” Klieman said. “But then if you do that then you’re a little short in the run game. We were kind of trying to do a little bit of both and it’s difficult.”
The Wildcats weren’t done, though. Just when it seemed like the Longhorns were taking control, K-State responded with a huge play on special teams. Joshua Youngblood responded to the Texas touchdown by returning the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.
It was the second time this season that K-State came up with a momentum-changing play when it desperately needed one while trailing late on the road. This play was similar to the kickoff Malik Knowles returned for a touchdown against Mississippi State.
K-State fed off the play and forced Texas to punt after three plays on its next drive. Then Thompson led the Wildcats into scoring range and nearly delivered a touchdown, but Dalton Schoen couldn’t quite hold onto a pass in traffic at the goal line. Blake Lynch tied the game moments later with a 45-yard field goal that made the score 24-24 with 6:45 remaining.
But it wasn’t quite enough.
K-State will try to bounce back when it is next in action at home against West Virginia.
“It just felt like we left some plays out there and could have done better in the second half,” Thompson said. “I’m really proud of this team. Nobody gave up or had any doubt. Everybody fought until the very end for a full four quarters. That’s all you can ask for. I truly feel like we are getting better every week. This is just a setback.”