Joshua Youngblood made it look as things would be a breeze — a strong one, given the ultra-windy conditions, but a breeze nonetheless — Saturday for Kansas State.
Youngblood, the Wildcats’ immensely talented true freshman receiver, entered the game against Iowa State with two touchdowns on kickoff returns this season, including one last week at Texas Tech. It didn’t take long for him to add another.
He ran back the opening kickoff 93 yards for a score, giving the hosts a quick, 7-0 lead 13 seconds into Saturday’s game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The Wildcats tacked on another touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter, pushing their edge to 14-0.
As so often happens in a series typified by close finishes — each of the last five meetings prior to Saturday were decided by five points or less, and 11 of the last 12 were within single digits — the Cyclones rallied, ripping off the next 17 points.
Once it ended, though, K-State accomplished what became routine under former head coach Bill Snyder: beating Iowa State, walking off the field with a 27-17 victory.
“We challenged all the underclassmen to lay it on the line today for our senior class,” K-State head coach Chris Klieman said. “Without question, we played an excellent football game. Was it perfect? No. But the conditions weren’t either.”
Following Youngblood’s touchdown return, the Wildcats (8-4, 5-4 Big 12) did little offensively, finishing the first quarter with just 71 total yards. The good news: The Cyclones (7-5, 5-4) did even less, tallying only 39 yards (27 rushing, 12 passing) and a lone first down.
But after true freshman K-State running back Jacardia Wright’s 12-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, Iowa State’s high-powered offensive attack — featuring the Big 12’s leading passer in terms of yards per game (320.3) in sophomore signal-caller Brock Purdy and the league’s second-leading rusher (100.1 ypg) in conference games in true freshman Breece Hall — finally started to find a rhythm.
Purdy connected with Sean Shaw for a 15-yard score at the 5:59 mark of the second period. Five minutes later, Hall plunged into the end zone from the 1-yard line with only 42 seconds left in the half to send the teams into the locker room knotted at 14-all.
The Cyclones edged ahead on the first time, 17-14, thanks to a 36-yard field goal from Connor Assalley. The successful field goal marked the only points off a turnover all game, as the previous drive ended in an interception for K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson, victimized by Iowa State defensive back Greg Eisworth. It was the second straight drive that ended in a miscue for Thompson; on the previous possession, he had the ball poked out by Iowa State defensive end Will McDonald, and it was recovered by fellow end Eyioma Uwazurike.
Assalley’s field goal was all she wrote for the Cyclones’ offense in the second half, though.
In a reversal of the previous two quarters, it was the Wildcats who went on a scoring run, ending the game with 13 straight points: a pair of field goals from Blake Lynch and a 15-yard touchdown run from senior tailback Jordon Brown.
In sum, the Wildcats harassed Purdy into his worst outing of the season, setting lows for completions (15), yards (185) and tying another season worst with only one touchdown. Hall was equally ineffective, outside of his one touchdown. He ran 18 times for 59 yards –– the fewest yards the Wichita freshman has run for this season when tallying that many carries.
“The defense was dynamite,” Klieman said. “They were 1 of 13 on third down. I liked ‘Coach Haze’s’ (defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton) plan coming into it.”
With their regular seasons complete, both K-State and Iowa State now await their bowl destinations, which will be announced Dec. 8.
The Wildcats’ season had an odd symmetry to it: a 3-0 start, followed by two losses. Then three more wins and two more losses. They’ve put together back-to-back victories once more, with a chance for a three-game win streak to end the season provided they triumph in their bowl.
The key to the team’s success, Klieman said, was that his players heeded one word of his advice, which he pounded into them repeatedly whether they were in the midst of a winning streak or fighting through the lows of a losing skid.
“‘Block out the noise,’” he said he told the team. “‘It’s just us in our room. Focus on the guys you’re with and your brothers.’”