For the first time all season, Kansas State trailed by a touchdown before its offense touched the football.
Few had picked Oklahoma State to beat — or even seriously challenge the Wildcats — Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium, but after the Cowboys opened the game with an effortless scoring drive, anything seemed possible. Hope began to build on the visitors’ sideline. Doubt crept through the crowd.
Then Morgan Burns hit the reset button.
In a game K-State went on to easily win 48-14, it is rare to label a single play as decisive. But Burns’ 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown fewer than 4 minutes into the first quarter was of the utmost importance. He sprinted left, cut right behind a Curry Sexton block and tied the score by outrunning everyone to the end zone. Burns not only stopped Oklahoma State from gaining the confidence every underdog team requires, but he swung momentum firmly in K-State’s favor.
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“Sometimes when that happens you have a lot of guys standing around looking at each other saying, ‘Wow, what is going on?’” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “You don’t have time to do that, because he put it right back in the end zone. Personally, I think that had a great impact, not so much on the outcome of the ballgame but on the mind-set of our players in that early stage of the game.”
The No. 11 Wildcats, 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big 12, dominated from there. They gained 421 yards on offense and limited the Cowboys, 5-4 and 3-3, to 261 yards, despite giving up 84 yards on that opening drive. Oklahoma State had just 48 yards in the second half.
“The rest of the game was pretty much ours,” Sexton said. “That was probably the best we have played as a whole unit.”
Jake Waters completed 19 of 28 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Charles Jones rushed for 43 yards and two touchdowns. Sexton had a huge night, catching nine passes for 159 yards and a score, and Tyler Lockett added six catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.
K-State was even better on defense. Aside from looking unprepared early to defend Oklahoma State speedster Tyreek Hill, who lined up at running back and receiver while also returning kicks, the Wildcats shut down the Cowboys at every turn.
Oklahoma State’s only other score was an interception return by Ramon Richards of a pass by backup quarterback Joe Hubener.
Travis Britz led the way for K-State with three tackles for loss, Dante Barnett and Dylan Schellenberg each made an interception, and Jonathan Truman recovered a fumble.
As the game wore on, Snyder grew so confident in the Wildcats’ defense that he declined an Oklahoma State holding penalty on second down with the Cowboys in scoring range. Two plays later, Barnett intercepted a pass on fourth down. The crowd of 53,746 – the second largest in K-State history – roared in approval.
Hill finished with 136 yards of offense and one touchdown, but few others did anything of note. Quarterback Daxx Garmann completed 12 of 23 passes for 123 yards, and Oklahoma State lost three turnovers.
It was hardly a perfect night for K-State, with its offense punting four times and regularly benefiting from Oklahoma State penalties. But it was a night that should improve Kansas State’s playoff stock.
The Wildcats entered Saturday ranked ninth in the playoff’s first top 25 poll. A blowout victory, broadcast in prime time, should help them with the voters — especially with Mississippi, ranked fourth in the playoff rankings, falling to Auburn.
Of course, momentum and form will matter more than playoff rankings when K-State travels to TCU next week.
The game will have conference championship implications, and possibly playoff implications.
K-State should be pleased with both. Aside from a few shaky moments early against Oklahoma State, it has been dominant in its last two victories. Burns is a big reason why.
“It was all the blockers,” Burns said. “They opened up a huge hole and I ran through it for a big play.”
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