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Wildcats Handle Stanford in Allstate Kickoff Classic, 24-7

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Courtesy of K-State Athletics

ARLINGTON, Texas – The first time Skylar Thompson talked about his decision to come back to Manhattan, he said he wanted to end his K-State career on a high note.

“My ultimate goal is to play at the next level, but that’s not why I came back,” Thompson said. “I came back because I still feel like my best football here at K-State lies ahead.”

After his first touchdown of the season, a six-yard Thompson scamper in front of the K-State student section at AT&T Stadium, it was hard to argue with the Wildcats senior captain.

But it was easier than ever to picture Thompson making good on that March prediction.

K-State defeated Stanford 24-7 in their season opener, played in Arlington as part of the 2021 Allstate Kickoff Classic.

“Been building on this for about eight months through an unbelievable difficult winter, difficult spring, difficult summer, difficult fall camp, because we knew we needed to be better and challenge the guys and they challenged each other,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “Talked about three things before the game, and that was next-level communication on the field; next-level physicality on the field; and then believing that we’re a better football team.”

It was a wire-to-wire victory on Saturday, and the Wildcats found the explosive plays they needed to complement a K-State defense that completely shut down the Cardinal.

Start with the atmosphere at AT&T Stadium, where a game played almost 500 miles from Manhattan still managed to deliver the Wildcats an undeniable home-field advantage.

A pair of Powercats in each endzone was one thing, but the K-State fans packed into AT&T Stadium delivered the noise when it mattered.

Midway through the second quarter, Stanford had already racked up three false starts.

“It was pretty unreal. To even have the opportunity to be able to play in this stadium is once-in-a-lifetime,” Deuce Vaughn said. “It’s something I’ll never forget, and I just had so much fun out there today.”

Meanwhile, the Wildcats overcame an early mistake on offense – a highlight reel interception by Stanford cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly in the endzone – to play from in front against Stanford.

On K-State’s second drive of the game, Phillip Brooks raced through busted coverage for a 56-yard catch-and-run.

The All-American returner was also the Wildcats leading receiver on Saturday, hauling in three passes for 81 yards, a new career high. His first catch of the afternoon would set up Thompson’s six-yard touchdown run, and the Wildcats never looked back in Arlington.

It was the first touchdown Thompson has scored since the upper-body injury in 2020 that ended his season after just three games.

“There was a lot that went into that touchdown. And a lot that people didn’t see,” Thompson said. “In the midst of a situation that once seemed very dark and stormy, you know…to see the sunshine a little bit and be able to take a deep breath, everything happened for a reason.”

Deuce Vaughn was involved early and often for K-State, with 13 carries and two receptions against the Cardinal. His biggest play of the afternoon came in the second quarter, when on third-and-long, Vaughn broke loose on a draw play for a 59-yard touchdown run.

Vaughn finished with 124 yards and a touchdown, his third consecutive 100-yard rushing day going back to last season.

“It was very affirming. Just the fact that we had been working for this since the winter, when that Texas game ended and everybody came back,” Vaughn said. “So proud of everybody that went out there and played today. Because, man, it’s a great team win.”

Another Thompson rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter would put the game out of reach, after a TJ Smith interception had the Wildcats in Stanford territory.

It was the defense, with big plays throughout the afternoon, that turned AT&T Stadium into Manhattan South.

“I think we surprised a lot of people with our physicality, up front especially,” Cody Fletcher said. “We came out with a lot more different looks than I think people were expecting.”

With five new starters on defense, the Wildcats kept Stanford off the board until it was 24-0 in the fourth quarter.

The Cardinal punted on their first four drives before Louisville transfer Russ Yeast came up with his first interception as a Wildcat to stop another Stanford drive.

Klieman talked postgame about the importance of limiting explosive plays – Stanford’s longest play from scrimmage on Saturday was 30 yards.

“We had a big pick and we never gave up the explosive play. And that’s something we’ve been talking ad nauseum about is the explosive play that hurt us so much,” Klieman said. “We have to do a great job preventing those, and we did.”

Next up for K-State? Packing Bill Snyder Family Stadium for the first time since 2019 when the Wildcats host Southern Illinois in their home opener on September 11.

“We have to continue to improve,” Klieman said. “I was just so happy to see how hard the guys played. You kind of take that for granted, that guys play hard, but today they played extremely hard and made plays when it mattered.”

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Derek Nester
Derek Nesterhttps://sunflowerstateradio.com
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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