Kansas State was within reach of a monumental victory Saturday, one that would be celebrated locally and respected nationally. But it slipped away.
K-State couldn’t finish. TCU went out with a bang.
Just like that, the No. 2 Horned Frogs rallied from a big halftime deficit to beat the Wildcats 52-45 at Snyder Family Stadium.
They won behind several highlight plays from quarterback Trevone Boykin, running back Aaron Green and receiver Josh Doctson. Together, they were too strong for K-State’s depleted secondary to stop.
“It’s devastating,” K-State safety Kaleb Prewett said. “It really is. When you have games that are coming down to the last couple minutes and it is put in our hands we have got to make a play. We have got to make a stop and put it in our offense’s hands and give them a chance to win the game. We couldn’t get it done.”
TCU clinched victory when Boykin hit Doctson for a 55-yard touchdown with 1 minute, 10 seconds remaining that put the Horned Frogs ahead for good. K-State had an opportunity to respond, but quarterback Joe Hubener lost a fumble before the Wildcats could get anything going. It was his second costly turnover of the half.
K-State tied the game at 45-45 with 1:47 remaining on a 37-yard field goal from Jack Cantele. But even that left Bill Snyder shaking his head.
Trailing 45-42, the Wildcats faced a fourth-and-one at the TCU 20. The Wildcats could have gone for the first down and a potential game-winning touchdown shortly after. Even a conversion followed by a field goal would increase the likelihood of overtime. Instead, they went for the tie and asked a defense down safety Dante Barnett and corners Morgan Burns and Danzel McDaniel to hold strong.
“Obviously, that was the wrong thing to do,” Snyder said.
The wild finish capped a game that was action packed, filled with highlights and momentum swings on both sides.
Things got exciting in a hurry. After receiving the opening kickoff, TCU scored on its first play from scrimmage with a simple run up the gut. Aaron Green took a handoff and darted through the teeth of K-State’s defense for an 86-yard score that reminded the Wildcats and the 53,671 in attendance just how explosive the Horned Frogs can be.
But K-State was every bit as efficient when its offense was on the field.
The Wildcats had loads of success on the ground, asking quarterback Joe Hubener to run 26 times and Charles Jones to attempt 13 runs.
Together, they combined for six touchdowns.
Hubener ran the zone read well and rushed for 111 yards and four touchdowns. Jones, seeing an increased role over starter Justin Silmon, ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
The run-oriented strategy worked to perfection in the first half. The Wildcats possessed the ball for nearly 23 minutes, keeping the Horned Frogs’ offense off the field and allowing them to build an improbable 35-17 lead.
TCU entered the game as a 10-point favorite, but K-State looked like the superior team in the first half.
“We are a lot better than our record shows,” Hubener said. “I think we have so much talent on this team we have just got to put it all together.”
The Wildcats appeared on their way to a huge victory. They have never defeated a team ranked higher than the Horned Frogs at home.
But TCU flexed its muscles in the second half. Much like in the first quarter, it started quickly. Derrick Kindred intercepted a pass over the middle intended for Zach Reuter and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Suddenly, it was a game again.
Here’s the question: Why was Hubener throwing into coverage with a sizeable lead? Some will wonder why he was throwing at all.
After torching TCU on the ground in the opening half, K-State shifted to a pass-oriented attack that produced mixed results.
Hubener completed 13 of 33 passes for 157 yards. He was 5 for 18 in the second half. Even when his passes were on target, there was no guarantee his receivers could hold onto the ball.
Snyder attributed Hubener’s low completion percentage to “a number of things” that included “making better decisions” and his receivers “not putting the ball on the ground.”
The poor play and questionable strategy led to a second-straight loss to a ranked opponent for K-State after holding a halftime lead. Before a close loss at Oklahoma State last week, the Wildcats had 49 straight when leading at the half. A common thread to both losses: bad third quarters that featured lots of passes.
“We tried to possess the ball last week and lost the two-touchdown lead,” Snyder said. “You just have to do what you think people are going to give you and how the defense is playing. Their defense played very well. They played better defensively than we did offensively in the second half. We got a few plays, but not very many.”
TCU had better execution after a shaky first half.
Boykin completed 20 of 30 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns, on top of 124 yards and two touchdowns running the ball. His 69-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter could serve as a highlight that boosts his Heisman Trophy chances.
Green rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Doctson had 155 yards and two touchdowns.
Linebacker Elijah Lee intercepted Boykin twice, but the Wildcats otherwise lacked big plays on defense.
With the win, TCU (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) remains undefeated. K-State (3-2, 0-2) has lost two games in a row.
Snyder will try to get his players prepared for another big game next week against Oklahoma, but bouncing back could be difficult after a pair of gut-wrenching losses.
“This one ranks just below Baylor 2012,” said receiver Kyle Klein, referring to a loss that knocked then undefeated K-State out of the national title chase. “You have the chance to go out under the lights and a national audience and blow a halftime lead, that is pretty darn frustrating.”
No. 2 TEXAS CHRISTIAN 52
KANSAS STATE 45
TCU: Green 86 run (Oberkrom kick), 14:42.
KSU: Hubener 2 run (Cantele kick), 9:39.
TCU: Doctson 32 pass from Boykin (Oberkrom kick), 7:46.
KSU: Hubener 17 run (Cantele kick), 12:51.
TCU: FG Oberkrom 50, 11:32.
KSU: C.Jones 28 run (Cantele kick), 6:56.
KSU: C.Jones 7 run (Cantele kick), 4:56.
KSU: Hubener 1 run (Cantele kick), :22.
TCU: Kindred 60 interception return (Oberkrom kick), 13:16.
TCU: Green 8 run (Oberkrom kick), 7:14.
KSU: Hubener 1 run (Cantele kick), 12:21.
TCU: Boykin 14 run (pass failed), 7:55.
TCU: Boykin 69 run (Doctson pass from Boykin), 6:07.
KSU: FG Cantele 37, 1:47.
TCU: Doctson 55 pass from Boykin (Oberkrom kick), 1:10.
Pnt/Int Ret Yds
RUSHING: TCU, Boykin 11-124, Green 11-121, Team 1-(minus 3). Kansas St., Hubener 26-111, C.Jones 13-75, Silmon 6-22, D.Heath 2-14, Gronkowski 1-6.
PASSING: TCU, Boykin 20-30-2-301. Kansas St., Hubener 13-33-1-157.
RECEIVING: TCU, Doctson 8-155, Nixon 4-51, Turpin 3-57, White 3-18, Story 2-20. Kansas St., Burton 5-65, Klein 4-57, D.Heath 3-26, Reuter 1-9.