Another year, another stunner.
Much to the chagrin of No. 3-ranked and heavily favored Oklahoma, the Kansas State Wildcats found a way again.
A year after handing OU its only regular-season loss in Manhattan, the Wildcats took their show on the road Saturday with the same result, rallying from a 21-point second-half deficit for a 38-35 victory at Memorial Stadium.
Senior kicker Blake Lynch, who missed two field goal attempts in a season-opening 35-31 upset loss at home to Arkansas State just two weeks earlier, drilled a 50-yarder to give the Wildcats their only lead of the game with 4 minutes, 32 seconds left. The defense took it from there, getting two straight stops, including senior safety Jahron McPherson's interception to seal it with 34 seconds on the clock.
Senior quarterback Skylar Thompson and true freshman running back Deuce Vaughn led the offensive effort in the second half as K-State scored the game's last 24 points. Defensively, the Wildcats gave up 517 yards total offense, but forced four turnovers and got a blocked punt from AJ Parker that set up Vaughn's game-tying 38-yard touchdown run with 8:17 to go.
"Coming out of halftime, we made some adjustments, and our biggest thing was, we're not coming out of the fight," said McPherson, who led the Wildcats with 11 tackles and also forced a fumble late in the third quarter that led to a touchdown in the fourth. "We're going to keep bringing the fight, and we knew if we keep pounding it for four quarters that eventually we'll have some success."
Oklahoma led 21-7 at halftime and pushed the lead to three touchdowns on Spencer Rattler's 21-yard scoring pass to Jeremiah Hall with 6:35 left in the third period. That's when the tide began to turn.
On the ensuing possession, Thompson found Vaughn for a 77-yard pass play to the OU 1, and Thompson took it in for the first of his three second-half touchdown runs. Oklahoma answered immediately with a five-play, 75-yard drive and 5-yard Seth McGowan score.
But K-State dialed up another big play, this time to true freshman back Keyon Mozee, who broke wide open down the left sideline for a 78-yard pickup to the Sooner 2-yard line. Thompson scored on the next play and the Wildcats were in business.
"We were starting to make some plays in the passing game, some of those shots down field and 50-50 balls, and then obviously getting the play to Deuce," K-State coach Chris Klieman said of the turnaround. "It gave us some lift, a big play to get us down to the 1."
The Wildcats scored four rushing touchdowns, but managed just 6 yards on the ground in the game. Vaughn had 45 yards on eight carries, but also caught four passes for 129 yards.
Thompson completed 18 of 25 passes for a career-best 324 yards, including a 39-yarder for a touchdown to Chabastin Taylor in the second quarter that got K-State on the board with 5:10 left in the half.
"We weren't having much success rushing the football because those guys were just teeing off against us and running a lot of run blitzes," Klieman said of Thompson's performance. "So he knew he was going to have to throw the ball for us to win.
"We had to throw it out of a lot of different formations, from max protecting to empty sets, and he knew he was going to take some shots because they were bringing pressure."
Thompson was overshadowed for much of the game by Rattler, who completed 31 of 40 passes for 387 yards and four touchdowns, but also threw three interceptions. Two of the picks came in the first half, by linebacker Elijah Sullivan on a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage by tackle Jaylen Pickle, and another on a deep ball by cornerback Justin Gardner that led to a touchdown.
"We bailed ourselves out in the first half when we weren't moving the ball offensively and they were kind of moving the ball at will," Klieman said.
In addition to Rattler, Oklahoma got 73 yards rushing from McGowan and had six different receivers with three or more catches. Marvin Mims had two touchdown catches, with Hall and Drake Stoops — son of former OU coach Bob Stoops — one each.
K-State got some players back who had missed the season opener, either with positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing quarantine, but faced an even bigger challenge on defense against OU, with much of the secondary and starting defensive tackle Eli Huggins all sidelined.
The loss to Arkansas State raised some serious questions about the Wildcats, both outside the team and within, but they held a team meeting to address the issues, and a bye week gave them some extra time to right the ship.
"Like I said after week one, you find out a lot about a person (and) about a team through challenge and adversity, and this team responded," Thompson said. "I had no doubt going into this game that we were going to have a chance to win, just by the way that we handled the last two weeks, with every practice, and the way that we came together and corrected our mistakes.
"People were so selfless, man. People realized that they needed to get better, realized that they were selling themselves short, and when you sell yourself short you sell the team short."