LUBBOCK, Texas — A kicking competition broke out in the first half of Saturday’s game between Kansas State and Texas Tech.
The teams saved the fireworks for the second half.
After combining for just nine points in the first two quarters — all field goals, with the Wildcats holding the 6-3 lead at the break — the Big 12 foes put 48 on the board in the final 30 minutes. They fought to a draw, 24-24 in the second half.
K-State just scored three more overall.
That helped the Wildcats bring a two-game losing skid to a close, leaving Lubbock, Texas, with a 30-27 victory in hand.
“Couldn’t be happier for our players and our coaches,” said K-State head coach Chris Klieman, whose team improved to 7-4 overall and 4-4 in Big 12 play. “(They showed) tremendous fight, tremendous resolve. We fought through the adversity. We had a couple of tough weeks, but I told the guys we were getting better and we were heading in the right direction. ... (So) this is a big win for our program, because it shows the guys we’re heading in the right direction.”
At least during Quarters 1 and 2, the offenses might as well have been stuck in neutral
The trio of first-half field goals weren’t the only example of the sluggish offensive starts for both clubs at Jones AT&T Stadium Saturday. The first four drives, two per team, all ended in punts. And all were three-and-outs.
The first possession that saw a first down came later in the opening period by Texas Tech; that drive concluded with an interception, as K-State linebacker Da’Quan Patton picked off Texas Tech’s Jett Duffey. Not that it was a straightforward play. As Patton ran upfield, he lost the ball. Senior safety Denzel Goolsby was in the right place at the right time, helping the Wildcats retain possession.
K-State capitalized on the turnover: Blake Lynch scored the first points of the game on a 32-yard field goal with 1:32 remaining in the opening quarter. Yet, in a theme that would repeat itself multiple times in the first half, it could have been more. One play before Lynch’s successful kick, senior receiver Dalton Schoen had his hands on the ball for what would have been a 15-yard touchdown. But he didn’t hold on.
Junior wideout Wykeen Gill cost Thompson another passing touchdown on the final possession of the half.
Thompson threw a perfectly placed pass to Gill in the back of the end zone, hitting the Atchison native in the hands. Like Schoen, he didn’t hold on.
This time, Lynch couldn’t bail the Wildcats out, missing a 45-yard field goal — only his second errant kick of the year — as time expired in the half, keeping the visitors lead at 6-3.
It appeared the Wildcats would continue to cost themselves points at the beginning of the third quarter.
On the initial possession of the second half, Thompson overthrew Gill on what could have been an 18-yard scoring strike.
This time, however, the Wildcats flipped the score, dashing across the goal line two plays later on a 14-yard reception courtesy of redshirt freshman receiver Phillip Brooks — the game’s first touchdown, at the 10:20 mark of the third quarter.
That opened the floodgates.
Three more touchdowns came in the third stanza alone:
• A 5-yard rush by Texas Tech running back SaRodorick Thompson at the 7:06 mark.
• A 100-yard kickoff return — his second of the season — by true freshman K-State receiver Josh Youngblood on the ensuing kickoff.
• The Red Raiders responding quickly, taking just 1:21 to cover 49 yards, capped by a 21-yard pitch-and-catch from Duffey to Erik Ezukanma with 5:31 remaining in the quarter.
Following Ezukanma’s score, K-State led 23-20. And for the next 11 minutes of game time, the teams settled down.
In a callback to the low-scoring first half, the only scoring that came was on the legs of the two kickers, Lynch and his counterpart, Texas Tech’s Trey Wolff.
After Wolff’s 27-yard field goal with 14:35 left to play, the Wildcats still remained ahead by three, 23-20.
With the kickers returning to the background, touchdowns took center stage in a furious finish.
It started with a 48-yard touchdown reception by Chabastin Taylor, his first of the season.
Texas Tech (4-7, 2-6) countered with a passing touchdown of his own, with Duffey connecting with RJ Turner on a 58-yard scoring strike, drawing the hosts to 30-27 following Wolff’s point-after touchdown with 3:58 to go.
Situated between those two scores was arguably the contest’s biggest momentum swing.
Dialing up a trick play on fourth-and-6 at their own 42, Red Raider punter Austin McNamara found Ezukanma downfield for a 34-yard gain.
“We talk all the time about covering those guys all the way down the field,” Klieman said. “We kind of fell asleep to be honest with you.”
Duffey went to the end zone on the very next snap, resulting in an interception for Goolsby.
Though Thompson tossed an interception of his own on the following possession, Goolsby’s pick cost Texas Tech a chance at a tie, or, even worse for the Wildcats, a go-ahead score.
Instead, K-State enters next week’s regular-season finale against Iowa State on a significantly more positive note.
“How much is this going to catapult us? We got one game left,” Klieman said. “We found a way.”