Wildcats sputter, pull away against Mean Green
Published on -9/17/2012, 10:25 AM
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Hays Daily News
MANHATTAN -- The lights were on, but Bill Snyder had a sinking feeling nobody was home.
Whether his Kansas State Wildcats were gazing south toward Norman, Okla., or simply looking past North Texas, the signs were ominous.
"I hated playing this one at night because it's been on my mind very definitely for a long time and certainly was all during the course of the day," Snyder said after the No. 15-ranked Wildcats stuttered and sputtered for more than a half Saturday before pulling away to a 35-21 victory at sold-out Snyder Family Stadium. "I never try to predict those things, but it wasn't hard to see it coming.
"If you don't prepare yourself well, most anything can happen. We weren't very well prepared."
Though the Wildcats (3-0) swore North Texas had their full attention, this week's Big 12 opener at No. 5 Oklahoma clearly cast a long shadow.
"These games are hard to prepare for," defensive end Ryan Mueller said. "It's sometimes hard taking teams that aren't conference teams seriously, but we know that these types of games are usually dogfights."
North Texas definitely took the fight to K-State early, scoring first and holding the Wildcats to minus-1 yard in the first quarter. But Tyler Lockett kept it from being a complete disaster.
After the Mean Green drove 55 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead on wide receiver Brelan Chancellor's 6-yard run, Lockett needed just 13 seconds to answer for the Wildcats, bringing the ensuing kickoff back 96 yards for his third career touchdown return.
"All we were waiting for was a big play to turn things around," said Lockett, who took the ball at his 4-yard line, angled toward the sideline and outran the North Texas coverage. "It wasn't going the way that we wanted it to go, like maybe it did the first two games.
"But with the kickoff return we were able to spark it up, to help the offense and help the defense keep going. I think that motivated us to keep going and get away with this game, because we needed the win."
With the Wildcats going three-and-out on both first-quarter possessions, the return certainly came in handy.
"Special teams saved us," Snyder said.
Even after the Wildcats put together a second-quarter drive to lead 14-7 on Collin Klein's 38-yard strike down the middle to Tramaine Thompson, North Texas came back for more. Only a missed extra point allowed K-State to hold onto the lead.
The Mean Green took the second-half kickoff and marched 88 yards in 14 plays with Antoinne Jimmerson scoring from the 1. The drive took 7 minutes, 57 seconds, but Zach Olen's PAT kick sailed wide right.
That's when the Wildcats took control, answering with a 77-yard drive that culminated in a 21-yard Klein-to-Thompson completion in the left side of the end zone. Thompson originally was ruled out of bounds, but the replay overturned the decision.
K-State went the distance again on its next possession, covering 75 yards in six plays, including a 27-yard Klein run, to make it 28-13 on John Hubert's 6-yard carry. They padded the lead again with 6:44 left when Klein scored on a 1-yard sneak to cap a 65-yard drive.
"We were able to settle in a little bit," said Klein, who after a rough start came back to complete 15 of 20 passes for 230 yards and the two touchdowns to Thompson. "We ran six plays in the first quarter and that's on us.
"We are not allowing ourselves to even get in a rhythm, but I think we did settle in there and we made some progress."
Klein's favorite targets were Thompson and Harper, who each had five catches and combined for 180 yards. Thompson's 102 yards were a career high.
North Texas came back to score late on a 19-yard pass from Derek Thompson to Chancellor, but it was too little, too late for the Mean Green.
K-State did rally offensively to finish with 373 yards total offense to 353 for North Texas. The Wildcats had 143 yards rushing, with Klein picking up 85 on 11 carries.
North Texas' Thompson completed 25 of 28 passes for 208 yards, including nine for 86 to Ivan Delgado. The Mean Green had 145 yards rushing led by Antoinne Jimmerson with 68 on eight carries.
"Our football team came in believing they could win, not hoping they could win," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "I did not sense any hope that we could win a game, but instead more a sense of belief.
"We were not good enough to do it tonight."