Almost a week ago the Wildcats were celebrating their third Big 12 Championship and plenty of plays stood out as big ones from that performance. Daniel Green and Eli Huggins’ goal line stand, Deuce Vaughn’s 44-yard run, Julius Brents with a forced fumble on Quentin Johnston and Will Howard’s rocket to RJ Garcia. All fantastic plays that will be remembered in years to come. But as I looked back at some of the games from this season, it’s best to not forget plays that helped put the Wildcats in Arlington.
5. Ty Zentner’s 55-yard punt leads to KU muff and K-State touchdown
What happened on the play: For the first time since 2009 Kansas had an above .500 record when facing K-State. They also had a legitimate Big 12 offense that could give teams headaches.
K-State started the game with the ball, but their drive stalled after one first down and they were forced to punt on an early fourth down. K-State’s talented specialist Ty Zentner delivered another beautiful punt at the right time. Officially marked as 55 yards, it was longer than that and it sent Kansas returner OJ Burroughs backward on a slippery field. The ball popped out and Ekow Boye-Doe fell on it. On the next play, Malik Knowles rolled into the endzone for a touchdown.
Why it makes the list: The Jayhawks scored on three of their first four drives against K-State, the only drive they didn’t was the safety. The Kansas offense came to play and was going to be a real contender against K-State, they were heavily motivated and knew they had the makeup to compete for the first time in a while.
The muffed punt led to four consecutive touchdown drives for the Wildcats and they were able to control the scoreboard and the tone of the game against Kansas for the full 60 minutes. Who knows what that game looks like if the Jayhawk offense gets the ball with a 0-0 score?
4. Will Howard flings a 4th & 10 bomb to Kade Warner against Oklahoma State
What happened on the play: Looking to bounce back from the loss at TCU the week prior, K-State had Will Howard as their starting quarterback for the first time this season. Similar to after the Tulane loss, K-State came out and wanted the ball to start the game. The Wildcats were moving the ball but they reached a pivotal 4th & 5 on the first drive of the game. Chris Klieman sent his offense back onto the field in no man’s land at the Oklahoma State 33. A false start backed the Wildcats up more, but Klieman showed faith in his quarterback and offense by sending them out on 4th & 10.
Howard didn’t worry about the 10 yards, as he went for it all with a shot down the left sideline to Kade Warner. The Howard turnaround felt like the real deal after that play and coming off the strong performance at TCU the week prior.
Why it makes the list: This game broke Oklahoma State and made the statement that K-State still had a chance to win the Big 12 with or without Adrian Martinez. Howard threw four touchdown passes in the game and K-State’s offense felt like a different beast the rest of the season.
But what would the game have looked like if Oklahoma State gets the ball near midfield in a scoreless game and can try and take the first punch? The way K-State was able to find a way to set the tone in almost every game this season, even when facing adversity, makes me appreciate plays like the fourth down touchdown to Warner.
3. Kobe Savage’s interception in the endzone at Baylor
What happened on the play: After K-State’s opening drive stalled out in Baylor territory, the Bears, who still had a chance at the Big 12 Championship, hurried down the field and got inside the red zone. K-State got good pressure on second down to force an incompletion from Blake Shapen to set up a 3rd & 9.
On the next play, Shapen went back to throw and faced pressure from Brendan Mott who had slid past the offensive line tasked with handling him. Shapen, who struggles when plays break down, hurried a throw toward his tight end and it bounced off his hands into the waiting arms of Kobe Savage.
Why it makes the list: In the same vain as the two previous plays, the Wildcats were able to swat away the threat of trailing in the game early on. They were able to flip the script and snag the lead first. K-State would go on to win the game 31-3 and Baylor didn’t come close to scoring again in the game until it was put out of reach in the second half.
Plays like this one by Savage and the K-State defense were the epitome of the defense this year. Finding ways to make plays with your back against the wall and having each level of the defense team up to create turnovers. Pressure from Mott helped Savage end up with the ball, very similar to Austin Moore’s pressure leading to Julius Brent’s pick of Max Duggan in the Big 12 Championship.
2. Adrian Martinez races for a 55-yard first down to ice the game at Oklahoma
What happened on the play: Facing a 3rd & 16 in their own territory, the K-State offense was looking to finish off a monster win following the loss to Tulane. Holding on to a seven-point lead with just under three minutes to play, Martinez dropped back to throw with the intention of throwing a ball downfield to try and pick up the first down through the air. Instead, a sliver of space opened up between his offensive line and he shot through. 55 yards later, he was down inside the Oklahoma ten-yard line getting chirped at by an Oklahoma yell leader with the game in hand for K-State. Two plays later Martinez delivered his iconic bow after the touchdown to go up two scores.
Why it makes the list: Similar to 2012, a road win at a top-ranked Oklahoma team set the tone for the rest of the season. It was also redemption for Martinez and offensive coordinator Collin Klein. Until the Big 12 Championship Game, this is likely the most memorable play of the season and it helped ease everyone’s nerves after the Tulane game.
1. Adrian Martinez to Phillip Brooks for 81 yards and the only touchdown of the game
What happened on the play: It had been a long three years since the Wildcats beat Iowa State. Facing a tough Cyclone defense, the Wildcats were able to score on their first possession of the game, after the K-State defense forced a punt. On 3rd & 5, Martinez slid under the pass rush and was able to get a throw away to Phillip Brooks. Brooks caught it around the K-State 45 and then raced all the way to the endzone. It was the only touchdown scored in the game and K-State would have to wait until the fourth quarter before scoring again, a Chris Tennant field goal that became the eventual winner.
Why it makes the list: Another game that could have gone the other way if this play doesn’t happen. K-State only avoided punts on three drives in this game. A touchdown, missed field goal and the make from Tennant.
Iowa State was able to piece together enough field goals to hold a lead into the fourth quarter. If Martinez doesn’t avoid the blitz and Brooks can’t breakaway and score, the Wildcats may have dropped the game in Ames and the season takes on a totally different feel. Instead, they won and headed into the bye week unbeaten in Big 12 play, gearing up for a big game with TCU.