The Kansas State defense mounted an epic goal-line stand in overtime, stopping TCU on the one-yard line twice, and Ty Zentner kicked a 31-yard field goal on K-State’s possession to win an epic, thrilling 31-28 contest in the Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Third-ranked TCU (12-1) tied the game with under a minute to go to force overtime, and appeared on the verge of taking the lead after inactive Adrian Martinez called the coin toss properly for K-State and chose to defend. On second down from the K-State six, Max Duggan ran for five yards. But the Wildcat defense stopped Kendre Miller from reaching into the end zone on third down, and completely bottled him up on fourth down to keep the Horned Frogs off the board. On their own possession, Deuce Vaughn picked up 12 yards on three carries before a Will Howard run on third down set up the positioning for Zentner’s game-winner.
The first sixty minutes of the game were no less thrilling.
After K-State (10-3) had to punt on their first possession, TCU got on the board first. A 53-yard pass to Quentin Johnston helped Duggan mount a seven-minute touchdown drive which ended with a 1-yard completion to Taye Barber.
The Cats went three-and-out, then the defense held thanks to a great pass breakup by Ekow Boye-Doe, who hurt himself on the play. Griffin Kell tried a 55-yarder and missed just wide left. Malik Knowles picked up eight on a jet sweep, then caught a 40-yard bomb from Howard to get K-State into the red zone. On 4th-and-1 from the 6, Howard faked a handoff to Deuce Vaughn and then tossed to a wide-open Ben Sinnott to tie the game at seven.
The teams traded punts three times, with a targeting call on TCU overturned because Vaughn was still upright and still trying to catch a pass that he’d bobbled interrupting the action for a moment. TCU burned its final timeout of the half to avoid a delay penalty on their second punt in the sequence, and then Collin Klein struck. Knowles picked up 40 yards on a perfect jet sweep, Howard hit Vaughn for 18 to get to the one yard line, and then walked it in himself to give K-State a 14-7 lead.
TCU went 3-and-out, and K-State came back out absent an injured Knowles with D.J. Giddens in the backfield and Vaughn lining up wide. The Cats got to the TCU 37, but failed to convert on fourth down. On the next play, Duggan hit Johnson for 30 yards but Julius Brents stripped the ball and Austin Moore recovered. But the Cats then went 3-and-out themselves, and TCU drove to set up a 42-yard field goal by Kell to close to 14-10.
After halftime, K-State was absolutely robbed of a huge play. On third down at his own 14, Duggan had the ball knocked out of his hand by Moore as he was trying to pass, and TCU recovered in the end zone for a ruled safety. But on review, it was ruled an incomplete pass despite the ball still being in Duggan’s hand.
Howard wasn’t ruffled. A short pass to Kade Warner moved the chains, then a 26-yarder to Sinnott was followed by a 25-yard dime to R.J. Garcia for his first career touchdown, extending the lead to 21-10.
The defense forced another 3-and-out, capped by a 9-yard sack by Felix Anudike-Uzomah, but Phillip Brooks fumbled the punt and TCU took over at the Wildcat 30. Three plays later, Miller scored from six yards out.
K-State burned almost seven minutes on a 12-play drive which ended with Ty Zentner punting from midfield after a 12-yard sack of Howard. The punt was nearly downed inside the one, but it was ruled a touchback. Duggan immediately completed a 51-yard shot to Johnston, getting hammered by Daniel Green for his trouble. Julius Brents was beaten badly on the play, and later committed a pass interference penalty in the end zone to extend the drive.
On 3rd-and-7 from the eight, Brents atoned. Duggan threw under pressure, and Brents picked off the pass to end the threat.
After two relatively easy first downs, Vaughn got into open space and made multiple TCU defensive backs look stupid as he raced 44 yards for a touchdown. TCU responded, surging into K-State territory and nearly having a first down on the Wildcat ten — but the refs actually called holding, pushing the Frogs back to the 40. They had to settle for a 42-yard field goal from Kell which technically made it a one-possession game at 28-20.
The Cats never got to midfield, and had to punt. TCU drove, Duggan escaping a sack on 3rd-and-15 to break free for 40 yards and scoring from eight yards out the next play. A conversion pass to Jared Wiley tied the game at 28.
K-State couldn’t get into field goal range and had to punt; Seth Porter caught the punt on the fly at the TCU 5 and TCU chose to just take the game to overtime.
And then it all happened.
Will Howard didn’t have a great game, but it wasn’t bad either. He went 18-32 for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Vaughn ran for 130 yards and a score, and caught two passes for 30 yards. Knowles, before his injury, accounted for 48 yards on two carries and 40 yards on one catch. Giddens added 29 yards on six carries. Brooks had the team-high in both catches and yards with six for 48; Warner, Sinnott, and Garcia each had a pair of receptions.
The Wildcats were outgained 469-404 by TCU, being outrushed 218-205. 100 of those rushing yards came on TCU’s final full drive of regulation — yes, you read that right. The Cats won the turnover battle 2-1, and led time of possession 32 minutes to 28 (exactly). Penalties were even, four against each team, 40 yards against K-State and 45 against TCU.
1) The kids are alright.
Plenty of backups were forced into duty today and really showed out against a playoff-level opponent. Players like Giddens, Garcia, Jacob Parrish, Desmond Purnell, all stood out today. The Wildcats survived a slew of late-season injuries and they still won the trophy.
2) TCU is also pretty damned good.
By the time regulation ended, TCU had proven they belong in the College Football Playoff. Have they been lucky? Sure. But when every week you are either lucky or dominant, you’re a champion even if you don’t win the championship.
3) We need to have a national conversation about holding.
Look, holding happens and doesn’t get called, and that’s actually fine... except when the offensive linemen are just flat out tackling the defensive linemen. This has happened repeatedly all season, and sometimes it’s even been K-State getting away with it.
4) Nobody wants this team on New Year’s.
Not even Alabama. K-State did not back into the Sugar Bowl as a result of a contractual necessity. They earned that spot, because —
5) BIG 12 CHAMPIONS, BABY!
That’s the most important thing we learned today. K-State played four games this season against teams ranked in the top ten at the time they played them.
And they ended up beating them all.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Fittingly, it’s Deuce Vaughn on offense. On defense... the entire eleven that was on the field for the final TCU play. Share the trophy, guys.
The Sugar Bowl, and K-State didn’t back into it. The opponent will probably be Alabama.