Joe Hubener went down and Kody Cook came in. The game had just started, yet all seemed lost. Kansas State was out of scholarship quarterbacks, and the next man up was a senior receiver who hadn’t thrown a pass since junior college.
Winning a conference road game in a venue where the Wildcats traditionally struggle seemed too much to ask. So K-State players weren’t sure how to react when they fell painfully short against No. 20 Oklahoma State on Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium, losing 36-34 on a last-minute field goal by Ben Grogan.
Some, like senior left tackle Cody Whitehair, admitted there were positives. Not quite a moral victory — K-State doesn’t do those — but close. Others, like freshman running back Justin Silmon, insisted injuries could not be used as an excuse, no matter how depleted the roster.
Finally, sophomore linebacker Elijah Lee summed up the team’s mood.
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“It hurts,” Lee said. “We had a chance to do something special.”
An injury-plagued K-State roster threw a scare into Oklahoma State, and nearly ended a losing streak in Stillwater dating to 1999. The Wildcats led 28-13 in the second quarter with their fifth-string quarterback making one improbable play after another. They led 34-33 with 3:01 to go after even Cook had to exit because of an injury.
At times, it felt like the stars had aligned for a K-State victory. No more so than when Hubener returned in the fourth quarter and hit running back Charles Jones on a 72-yard pass and scored moments later on a keeper. But Oklahoma State proved too strong, mounting two scoring drives in the final 6:06 to win.
“To come back and score and get in position to win the ballgame then lose it, there’s going to be some pain that goes along with it,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “The positive thing is yet to happen.”
K-State, 3-1 overall and 0-1 in the Big 12, suffered its first loss of the season to undefeated Oklahoma State, 5-0 and 2-0, and there is no telling where the Wildcats go from here.
Up next is another challenging game against No. 4 TCU, which obliterated Texas on Saturday, at Snyder Family Stadium. After that is a home game against No. 15 Oklahoma. Things aren’t getting easier anytime soon.
Mounting injuries won’t help the cause. Quarterbacks Jesse Ertz and Alex Delton suffered knee injuries in the first two games, fourth-stringer Jonathan Banks was sick and didn’t travel to Stillwater, and Cook left Saturday’s game because of an injured right shoulder. Starting receiver and kick returner Dominique Heath also went down Saturday. Top defensive back Dante Barnett hasn’t played since the opener.
“It’s a lot of adversity,” said Silmon, who ran for 50 yards and a touchdown. “It is tough, but we aren’t going to sit here and pout about it. We are going to keep pushing. We know what kind of team we are and we know what we can do. It definitely hurts, but we are going to bounce back.”
The Wildcats can look to Cook for inspiration.
Cook, a former walk-on who played quarterback and receiver at Hutchinson Community College, exceeded all expectations when Hubener was shaken up on the opening drive. He promptly led K-State on four touchdown drives in the first half, finishing with 122 yards and two touchdowns passing on top of 87 yards and a touchdown rushing.
Snyder said Cook took snaps at quarterback all week. Cook expected to run the wildcat offense and to serve as the backup. He ended up playing so well that Snyder left him the game until he hurt his shoulder on a 32-yard scamper at the start of the fourth quarter, though Hubener was deemed fit to play.
“Cody was playing so well,” Snyder said. “We didn’t want to make that change.”
Though surprised by the strong effort, his teammates weren’t shocked.
“I knew Kody was going to do what he did,” Silmon said. “Kody is a baller. He is going to make plays whether he is at receiver or quarterback.”
Burton added, “He really gave everything he had. That really is a tribute to the kind of person he is, and that really wore off on our team. That is something we can all pick up and run with.”
Oklahoma State was caught completely off guard. It wasn’t until it made major defensive adjustments at halftime that it finally slowed K-State.
But the Cowboys dominated the third quarter, limiting the Wildcats to 1 yard.
“We changed some techniques based on certain areas of the running game and certain formations,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “Kansas State has always had success with showing the run and then dumping the ball over the middle, so we defended that really well.”
Cook put K-State in position to win, but K-State’s defense was unable to finish. After a promising start, its secondary wilted under the pressure of closing out the game.
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for 437 yards and three touchdowns, continually picking on corner Morgan Burns in the second half. Cowboys receivers Marcell Ateman and James Washington both eclipsed 100 yards, and David Glidden added 83.
They did it with routine plays.
“It was just a bunch of short outs, short ins, short stops, slants, little stuff like that,” K-State safety Kaleb Prewett said. “They were just beating us with it. We just didn’t have it to stop them today.”
The result was a loss that could have been avoided.
“It leaves a sour taste in your mouth,” Burton said, “especially a loss like this, where you feel like you left it on the table for them to come and take. I think offense and defense really gave it their all. We did some good and did some bad. Hopefully this lights a fire under us.”
No. 20 OKLA. STATE 36
KANSAS STATE 34
TableStyle: SP-byperiodsCCI Template: SP-byperiods
KSU: Cook 3 run (Cantele kick), 10:09.
OSU: Washington 32 pass from Rudolph (Grogan kick), 7:31.
KSU: Gronkowski 4 pass from Cook (Cantele kick), 1:25.
OSU: McCleskey 4 pass from Walsh (kick blocked), 13:14.
KSU: Burton 17 pass from Cook (Cantele kick), 10:46.
KSU: Silmon 6 run (Cantele kick), 4:37.
OSU: Ateman 11 pass from Rudolph (Grogan kick), :46.
OSU: R.Taylor 1 run (pass failed), 7:00.
OSU: Sheperd 3 pass from Rudolph (Grogan kick), 6:06.
KSU: Hubener 5 run (pass failed), 3:01.
OSU: FG Grogan 37, :32.
TableStyle: SP-footballstatsCCI Template: SP-footballstats
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Kansas St., Cook 21-87, Silmon 15-50, Hubener 4-8, D.Heath 1-3, Gronkowski 1-(minus 4). Oklahoma St., R.Taylor 9-35, McCleskey 2-19, Carr 6-15, Washington 1-10, Walsh 3-(minus 1), Team 2-(minus 2), Rudolph 4-(minus 27).
PASSING: Kansas St., Cook 10-16-0-122, Hubener 3-9-1-85. Oklahoma St., Rudolph 34-55-1-437, Walsh 1-1-0-4.
RECEIVING: Kansas St., D.Heath 3-49, Klein 3-36, Burton 2-33, A.Davis 2-7, C.Jones 1-72, West 1-6, Gronkowski 1-4. Oklahoma St., Glidden 8-83, Washington 7-100, Ateman 6-101, Hays 5-32, Sheperd 3-56, McCleskey 3-12, Seales 1-40, Lacy 1-15, Carr 1-2.
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett