And just like that, almost everything up on that top shelf is back within arm’s reach: A Big 12 title. A Top 10 ranking. Even an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. You can understate Kansas State 31, Oklahoma 30, around Manhattan, but you cannot overstate its importance in the big picture.
Saturday solidified the first back-to-back wins in Norman since 1994 and 1997, at the glorious beginnings of the first Bill Snyder Apex. Of course, the Sooners were descending into garbage by then, so for those who insist on historical caveats, there’s also this: First two-game road winning streak for the Wildcats versus Bob Stoops, the infamous former K-State assistant turned K-State killer.
Spin it forward, the eyes get wider and the stakes get bigger. There’s the big one, of course: The Wildcats (5-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12) will likely hit the midpoint of the college football season as the Big 12’s only unbeaten team in league play, at least a half-game up on the rest of the field. Saturday’s victory also checks off one of three remaining absolute killer road tilts left on the Wildcats’ schedule — trips to TCU (4-1, 1-1 as of Saturday afternoon) on Nov. 8 and a visit to Baylor (5-1, 3-1 and shock losers at West Virginia) on Dec. 6 are dangerous and huge — as a win. Bonus: It seriously damages the spot the Sooners (5-2, 2-2) and their fans had earmarked for themselves in the Big 12 title picture, leaving Boomer Nation hanging on by half a pinkie.
The Point-A-Minute Bears of Art Briles still must visit Norman on Nov. 8. Meanwhile, the ‘Cats get Oklahoma State (5-1, 3-0 Big 12) and may need only to split visits to Morgantown and Fort Worth to set up a possible winner-take-all scenario (at worst) during that trek to Waco.
And, oh, doctor, how you’d love to have that Auburn game back.
This one was not unlike that one, on several fronts, with Team EMAW playing the role of War Eagle. Namely, the hosts leaving all kinds of special teams points on the field (seven, in this case, all of ’em huge) and offering up gift after gift to the scrappy visitors. The Sooners were picked off twice to the Wildcats’ none, which when combined with two missed field goals and a blocked extra point (hello again, Travis Britz), nullified OU’s total yardage cushion of 533-385 and a first-down edge of 30-17.
To put it another way, on a good day, Oklahoma turns those yards into at least 40 points. But Saturday was not a particularly good day — Sooners wideout Sterling Shepard notwithstanding — unless you happened to be wearing purple. Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight had a volume afternoon (318 yards passing, three touchdown tosses, one insanely poor pick-six while backed up near his own end zone), but K-State signal-caller Jake Waters had a clutch one, using his legs (10 carries, 51 yards, including one 53-yard scamper) to set up his arm for big conversion after big conversion. The Wildcats didn’t record a single three-and-out until their 10th drive of the day.
After a slow start, a wild contest — Team EMAW’s 31 points were the second-most a Snyder team has ever scored in Norman and the combined 61 points were the highest in a KSU-Sooners game at OU since 2009 — started to get chippy midway through the first quarter.
With eight minutes left in the period, Oklahoma fullback Aaron Ripkowski appeared to lay out K-State defensive end Ryan Mueller with helmet-on-helmet contact. A few seconds later, Trevor Knight bootlegged right, where he slid for a 3-yard gain before Wildcat defender Randall Evans popped him on the ground. Knight rolled over in pain and left the game with what appeared to be a shoulder or arm injury; Ripkowski was ejected for the hit. In one breath, the Sooners were short two offensive starters.
The next five plays, the hosts ran for 42, threw for eight, ran for two, threw for nine, ran for two and — boom — found themselves with a first-and-10 at the K-State 15. With 4:58 left in the period, Samaje Perine chugged into the end zone to give the Sooners a 6-0 lead.
Knight would return, and the ‘Cats would counter. The next KSU drive brought an incompletion, a 13-yard Charles Jones scamper and the coup de grace: a power quarterback run-fake on first down at the Wildcat 38 that the Sooners bit hard on, letting fullback Glenn Gronkowski slip untouched into the center of the field. Waters rolled right and found him in stride, and with the help of a few blocks, the sophomore raced for a 62-yard score that would tie the contest.
All told, Knight’s day would prove interesting, even if the Sooners’ postseason outlook isn’t. On first down from his own 1 a minute into the second quarter, he threw a lazy out to the wide, left side of the field. Wildcat corner Danzel McDaniel couldn’t believe his luck, accelerating hard for a few steps, then stepping in front of the route and turning it into the easiest five-yard pick-six you’ll ever see, putting the guests up, 13-7.
After no touchdowns for the game’s first 10-and-a-half minutes, the teams combined for three the final five minutes of the first quarter and the first three of the second. On the next series after his brain-cramp at his own end zone, the Sooners quarterback took just two plays and 28 seconds to drive 69 yards and tie the score on a 47-yard flip to Shepard.
Despite landing hard on what was reportedly a camera lens near a pylon late in the first half, Shepard returned to raise hell in the second, accounting for 28 of the 64 yards on a third-quarter Oklahoma drive that ended with a Knight pass to Blake Bell for a score and a 24-24 tie with 9:32 left in the period — the third deadlock of a nutso afternoon.
And, oh, for another crack at War Eagle. If only.
While we’re on the subject, Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt just ran a long, lonely mile in Kansas State counterpart Jack Cantele’s cleats. Late in the second quarter, the former was just a field goal away from tying a new Big 12 career record for makes, currently held by Mason Crosby, then of Colorado, now in Green Bay.
On the final play of the second quarter, Hunnicutt set up for a 32-yarder that might’ve cut the K-State lead to 21-20.
With 3:53 left in the game and the ‘Cats, up one, holding the Sooners to a fourth-and-goal and the K-State 2, Hunnicutt came on again for a 19-yard chip shot.
Crosby’s record, for another week, at least, looks strong. And the Wildcats’ dreams of a Big 12 title — and more — have rarely looked better.