Courtesy of K-State Athletics
STARKVILLE, Miss. – K-State faced roughly no adversity in its first two wins this season. The Wildcats knew that would end in Week 3, but they were prepared to bounce back from it in a 31-24 win at No. 23 Mississippi State on Saturday in Davis Wade Stadium.
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The Wildcats (3-0) scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, after MSU put up 17 straight, to clinch the program’s first road win against a Power Five opponent since topping Miami 28-24 in 2011. It also marked the program’s first ever road win over an opponent in the SEC at the time the game was played.
“It was a great day. I knew we would have adversity and I knew our guys wouldn’t panic and we’d have resolve, and that’s kind of what happened,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “It was a really good football team that we played. It was punch, counter-punch.”
K-State’s Malik Knowles delivered a momentum-changing blow early in the fourth quarter of a game played in 100-degree humid temperatures. The freshman receiver tied the game at 24 with a 100-yard kickoff return. It ended a long dry spell from K-State, which included only two true offensive series and 15 total yards in the third quarter.
“It was a big play when we needed it,” Klieman said. “It was a great job by the guys up front and getting the wall set. I was happy Malik could make it the whole way because I know he was cramping up as well today.”
After the special teams score, the Wildcat defense forced two consecutive three-and-outs to give them five such stops for the game. K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson followed the second fourth quarter stop with a six-play, 53-yard scoring drive to take the lead. He ended it with a 15-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Dalton Schoen with 5:37 to play.
“We knew we were going to battle adversity, but I feel like we handled it well as a whole, as a team, as coaches,” running back James Gilbert, with a team-high 59 rushing yards on 17 attempts, said. “Nobody pointed a finger. We just stepped up to the challenge and made the plays we needed to (in order) to win the game.”
K-State turned MSU over on downs on the ensuing drive. On fourth-and-16, AJ Parker and Elijah Sullivan capped the stop by hitting a diving MSU quarterback Garrett Schrader propelling him into a helicopter spin that forced him to fall a yard shy of the first down marker.
“This was going to be a four-quarter slugfest. That’s what we told our guys,” Klieman said. “Now, how much resolve do you have in the fourth quarter? How much do you believe in yourself? How much can you raise your level of play in the fourth quarter? I thought we had some really good stops on defense.”
K-State overcame a trio of lost fumbles with the strong fourth quarter, two on muffed punt returns and another on a Parker interception return. MSU turned those Wildcat turnovers into 17 points between the second and third quarters.
“That’s football. Those things happen,” Klieman said. “It’s just how you respond to those things and I thought our defense did a great job.”
The Wildcats also turned the Bulldogs over three times, turning two of them into a combined 10 points.
Senior safety Denzel Goolsby, who led the team with 11 tackles, snagged an interception that bounced off the hands of a Mississippi State receiver in the first quarter. It led to a 35-yard field goal from Blake Lynch.
About three minutes before halftime, freshman linebacker Daniel Green scooped up a fumble to set up a 30-yard scoring drive. MSU answered, however, with a 31-second touchdown drive, finished by a 35-yard touchdown pass to take momentum into the half.
“Today was the ultimate test to see where our football team was. We knew we were going to battle adversity, but I feel like we handled it well,” Gilbert said, as K-State will have a bye week before opening up Big 12 play at Oklahoma State on September 28. “I feel like going into the bye week everybody can get their bodies back (fresh) and we can start conference play and keep it rolling.”