Kansas State and Texas arrived at Saturday’s game with identical records, but kickoff approached with a Longhorns lean.
Texas was scoring on all opponents, while the Wildcats ranked last in the Big 12 in total offense. K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz was iffy after last weekend’s apparent shoulder injury, and the betting line had moved the Longhorns to a favorite after opening the week as an underdog.
The game unfolded and Texas piled up more advantages with a 100-yard rusher, an 80-yard touchdown pass and winning the turnover battle at plus-three.
But this all overlooks the biggest factor and explains Kansas State’s 24-21 triumph in the simplest form. The Wildcats own Texas.
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The fans chanted it as the clock ticked down, and the football team backed it up, again.
The triumph was K-State’s fifth straight over Texas in Manhattan and seventh in eight games in the Little Apple. The lone loss, in 2002, was sealed when Texas blocked a 36-yard field goal in the final seconds.
Kansas State leads the series 10-7 overall and 9-4 as Big 12 members. Texas claims a winning record over every other Big 12 program.
This purple push is a combination of skill and fortune. The Wildcats have been one of the league’s most successful programs. The disparity between the programs is in budget, with Texas approximately doubling K-State in revenue based on the latest figures, not victories.
K-State, since Bill Snyder arrived for the 1989 season and returned from his three-year absence in 2009, can stand up to just about everybody.
There is also this: In Saturday’s game, both teams made enough mistakes to lose. The Wildcats won because, as is often the case, theirs were managed better.
Those three Kansas State turnovers occurred in the second half and prevented the Wildcats from a more comfortable conclusion. But the Longhorns converted none of the takeaways into points.
“We had opportunities to win it,” Texas Coach Charlie Strong said. “So many missed opportunities.”
It was as if Texas saw K-State’s mistake and raised it. After Wildcats running back Charles Jones fumbled going into the end zone, a Longhorns drive was halted when Dorian Leonard dropped a fourth-down pass to his chest.
After an Ertz interception, Texas quarterback Shane Buechele was sacked on third down and was fortunate to recover a fumble.
Earlier in the game, a promising Longhorns drive ended with a midfield punt when so many players were called for a false start the referee couldn’t identify just one.
The first half could not have been more artfully scripted by the Wildcats. They held a nearly 4-1 lead in possession time with three clock-draining touchdown drives and opened a two-touchdown halftime lead
“That’s what we do,” Snyder said. “It’s important to do that, but you have to put points on the board.”
Texas’ offense never got in a rhythm. Yet, there were the Longhorns, punching in a touchdown with 46 seconds remaining to make it a three-point game. But on a day of mistakes, the final one went to Texas. The onside kick bounded out of bounds without being touched, sending Kansas State into victory formation.
Kansas State’s postseason prospects improved greatly. At 4-3, the Wildcats are likely to make it seven straight bowl seasons. Plenty of tests remain for the Longhorns, 3-4.
When it was over, at the coaches’ handshake, a microphone picked up Snyder telling Strong, “We both tried to give it away. I truly mean this from the bottom of my heart, you’re the guy. You are the guy.”
That classy comment must be especially meaningful to Strong, who feels mounting pressure for his 14-18 record in Austin. And Snyder was right about the first part, too. Both teams tried to give it away, and maybe in another matchup the game would have fallen the other way.
But this was Kansas State-Texas, and ownership of the series belongs to the Wildcats.