Courtesy of K-State Athletics
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Skylar Thompson fired a 35-yard completion down the seam to tight end Sammy Wheeler on fourth down that led to a crucial score, and the Wildcats took the air out of a West Virginia comeback by holding on for a 34-17 victory Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, snapping a five-game skid to the Mountaineers.
“Monkey off the back for sure,” said Thompson, who completed 14 of 19 passes for 138 yards and 1 touchdown. “It was something fresh on my mind and the senior class’s mind. We had a bad taste in our mouth about West Virginia. We’d never been able to get over the hump. This is bigtime for us.”
K-State’s first win over West Virginia since 2015 came after the Mountaineers topped the Wildcats 37-10 last season in Morgantown, West Virginia, which was the second-most lopsided win by the Mountaineers in the series.
That defeat stayed with K-State sixth-year senior center Noah Johnson, who called the victory a part of the team’s “revenge tour.”
“We definitely wanted this one bad,” Johnson said. “They’re a great challenge for us. The revenge tour, man, it’s always great to put on shows in front of your home crowd, and the crowd was awesome today. It’s a blast to play in front of them. The tour keeps going. We’ll enjoy it today and get back on the road tomorrow.”
K-State, 7-3 overall and 4-3 in the Big 12, next meets No. 13 Baylor, 8-2 and 6-2, which beat No. 8 Oklahoma 27-14 on Saturday. It will be Senior Day in Manhattan.
“We continue to challenge the guys to raise the temperature of the expectations around here,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said, “and I couldn’t be happier with us beating a really good West Virginia team.”
K-State built a 24-3 lead early in the third quarter before West Virginia, 4-6 and 2-5, roared back with a pair of touchdowns. A 3-yard touchdown pass from Jarret Doege to Winston Wright on fourth down seemingly took away all the Wildcats’ momentum. Trailing just 24-17, it appeared West Virginia threatened to snap the Wildcats’ three-game winning streak against Big 12 Conference opponents.
Klieman, the first coach in K-State history to lead his team to at least seven wins twice in his first three seasons, had other ideas.
“We didn’t come here to try and hang onto win,” Klieman. “We came here to try and win the football game.”
Thompson drove K-State 24 yards on 6 plays, but it appeared the Wildcats, who faced fourth-and-8, would stall at the West Virginia 45. An unsuccessful fourth-down play would give West Virginia ideal field position.
But Klieman had confidence in his sixth-year starting quarterback.
Klieman said that he looked at Thompson and said, “What do you like?”
“We knew on fourth down that if we got a first down there,” Thompson said, “it’d pretty much seal the game.”
K-State entered the game third in the FBS in converting 84.62% of its fourth-down opportunities this season. With K-State facing fourth-and-8 at the West Virginia 39-yard line, Thompson waited for Wheeler to get past free safety Alonzo Addae for the long completion to the 4-yard line.
“He absolutely ripped the seam route to Sammy Wheeler,” Klieman said. “It was the turning point of the game without a question. I’m glad the guys believe in each other, and they believed in me that they were going to get that call in and roll with it.”
Running back Deuce Vaughn ran it in on the next play for a 31-17 lead with 7:22 left in the fourth quarter.
“Gutsy call and I’m just glad (Klieman) trusted us to make plays and gave us the opportunity,” Wheeler said of his catch. “They checked to cover-3, so it was perfect for that play. We got a good look there, I just turned around and the ball was in the air, and I blacked out from there.”
K-State defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah forced West Virginia’s star running back Leddie Brown to fumble on the following series and Chris Tennant booted a 25-yard field goal. Anudike-Uzomah leads the FBS with six forced fumbles this season and tied the K-State single-season record shared with former All-American Darren Howard (1999).
Thompson earned his 23rd victory as a starting quarterback, the most by a K-State passer since at least 1990.
“It means a lot,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot that goes into that and a lot of guys that’ve helped me win football games, a lot of great coaches and great players. Every game I approach to have fun and win.”
Vaughn recorded his sixth 100-yard rushing performance of the season in gaining 121 yards on 25 carries and one score. Wide receiver Phillip Brooks had 5 catches for 62 yards and Wheeler had 3 catches for 45 yards and 1 score — a 3-yard reception on the opening drive of the third quarter that gave the Wildcats their commanding 24-3 lead.
“Huge play,” Klieman said. “Third-and-goal from the 4 and we give a little bit of a play action, and he beats the guy inside and Skylar throws a bullet that needs to be low, and Sammy has great hands and made the play. I love Sammy’s confidence.”
West Virginia outgained K-State 345-299 and scored a field goal and two touchdowns on three straight possessions between the second and third quarters, causing the crowd at Bill Snyder Family Stadium to grow uneasy. The lead dropped to just seven points at 24-17 with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“We really wanted to pitch a shutout in the second half and keep them to three points,” K-State cornerback Russ Yeast said. “There’s still work to do, but we’re definitely happy with the direction the defense is trending. We’re playing better football this point in the season.”
The K-State defense and special teams keyed the Wildcats’ attack early as Yeast intercepted a tipped pass that led to one touchdown, and Ty Bowman blocked a punt that Marvin Martin picked up and ran 7 yards into the end zone for another in taking a 14-0 advantage. It was the first time K-State returned a blocked punt for a score since 2015. K-State has 125 non-offensive touchdowns since 1999, which leads the FBS.
Jarret Doege went 27 of 45 for 268 yards and 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Running back Leddie Brown had 20 carries for 85 yards for the Mountaineers, who have lost five of their last seven games.
Doege entered the game averaging a league-leading 242.2 passing yards but also had a league-high eight interceptions — tied for the 14th most among FBS quarterbacks.
“It was a big deal to set that tone,” Yeast said. “It gives the whole team confidence when we can get a stop early and make plays early.”
K-State certainly made the plays it needed down the stretch for another big win.
“Our guys just found a way,” Klieman said. “It wasn’t pretty all the time, but we found a way. It’s a fun group to be around. We’ve won four in a row, and that’s really tough to do. Four in a row in this league is a heck of a lot of fun, and I’m excited for the guys.”