In this series, The Mercury asked Kansas State head coaches to identify their favorite game they’ve coached with the Wildcats. The series concludes with today’s entry, as head football coach Chris Klieman revisits K-State’s upset win over Oklahoma in October.
By now, you know the story. Chris Klieman spent five years as the head coach at North Dakota State, where he piled up a gaudy 69-6 record, complete with four FCS national championships. He made the Bison dominant in the FCS and competitive in the FBS, where they sprung a number of upsets.
Klieman will tell you, though, that he still remembers those six losses.
“I think people rushed the field for at least four,” Klieman said, “if not all six of them.”
So last October, in the immediate aftermath of his Kansas State club’s 48-41 upset of No. 5 Oklahoma at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, he could breathe. He was thrilled with the win — his favorite game in his short time at K-State thus far — but this time, the fans on the field were different.
They were his team’s.
“It was better to be on the other side for a change,” Klieman said with a laugh.
The win produced a number of superlatives for K-State. It was the Wildcats’ first home victory over the Sooners since 1996, and the first time fans rushed this field since 2012. Tack on the fact that Oklahoma made the College Football Playoff — as the only team with a loss on its ledger, by the way — and the magnitude of the win really comes into focus.
K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson completed 18 of 28 passes for 213 yards, but he did the most damage on the ground. He rushed 13 times for 39 yards and four touchdowns, the last of which came in the third quarter, good for a 41-23 lead.
His teammates mobbed him and the crowd of 50,394 entered delirium.
Klieman was less enthusiastic — on the inside, at least.
“‘How many more scores can we keep putting on the board?’” Klieman said he thought after the score. “Because they’re so explosive. The quarterback, the wide receiver, were elite, phenomenal players that got drafted really high. We knew it was a matter of time before those guys were going to make some plays.”
For K-State, Klieman’s intuition proved unfortunately foreboding.
In the fourth frame after running back James Gilbert scored to stretch the Wildcats’ lead to 48-23, the Sooners began clawing back.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts found CeeDee Lamb for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Then, Hurts did things himself and scored on a short touchdown rush. One drive later, Oklahoma converted a long field goal.
All of a sudden, K-State’s lead was down to 48-41 with 1:45 to play.
“As coaches,” Klieman said, “all you’re talking about is, ‘OK, what are the things that we can go back to? What are the things that they struggled with maybe in the second quarter or the third quarter that we haven’t used in awhile?’ We’re always trying to figure those things out, as far as a play-to-play basis, what we can do.”
The answer, as it happened: Not much.
That’s because moments later, when Oklahoma tried an onside kick, Klieman and Co. had to wait. And wait. The Sooners recovered the kick, but it was unclear whether somebody had illegally touched the ball before it traveled 10 yards, so a review ensued.
“Really long review,” Klieman said.
Prepared for the worst — for Oklahoma to take over at midfield — Klieman passed the time by consulting his defensive coaching staff.
“What are the things that we like?” he asked them. “Do we want to pressure Jalen Hurts and not let him sit back there, because they were having success? Do we want to play coverage? Do we want to press more guys in coverage? What do we want to do on defense if it’s their ball?”
That may have been the first time Klieman ever wasted time as K-State’s skipper.
Officials ruled the Sooners had performed an illegal touching, handing the Wildcats the ball. Oklahoma had no timeouts, so K-State could take a knee and run out the clock.
The hosts did just that. Thousands of purple-clad fans cascaded onto the field. Officials helped Kileman wade through the madness, into short interviews and finally to outside the tunnel that leads to his team’s locker room.
Klieman was there to congratulate each of his players individually — “I appreciated the guys’ effort and I just wanted to make sure they knew it,” he said.
But while he was there, he took a brief moment to take in the bedlam.
For once, he was on the right side of it.
“It was a really cool setting to watch,” Klieman said. “The fans pour out, to see the excitement on our players’ faces, to know that the hard work that they had been putting in for the whole year — and in particular that week — paid off and we were able to have a real big win for our program.”