Kansas

Resilience leads to Big 12 titles

NCAA Football: Big 12 Football Championship – Texas Christian in the state of Kansas

ARLINGTON, Texas – In sports there is a winner and a loser. While wins can cure all problems, defeat can destroy a team from within. Losing can really show the true colors of a team. How do you deal with that? Do they learn from their mistakes or do they beat themselves up? On Saturday at AT&T Stadium, we saw Kansas State’s response on the field.

While Kansas State was a team on everyone’s radar in the Big 12, nobody really talked about them much in the preseason. They knew they would have solid defense, and Deuce Vaughn was arguably the best running back in all of college football. The biggest question about them, however, was the quarterback situation with Adrian Martinez.

The first two games for Kansas State were easy. They dealt with South Dakota and Missouri with ease before slipping to Tulane and an ugly 17-10 game. How did the state of Kansas react? In the end, they went to Norman right the next week and defeated an Oklahoma team 3-0. Kansas State, after beating Oklahoma, would have a couple of narrow wins over Texas Tech and Iowa State ahead of their big matchup with an undefeated TCU team follow.

Starting quarterback Adrian Martinez played the first drive of that game in late October before retiring with a lingering injury. Backup quarterback Will Howard stepped in and led Kansas State to four straight scoring drives, but then fell flat in the second half. Although Kansas State had a 28-10 lead in that game, it ended up losing by double digits.

The Wildcats then responded with a big 48-0 win over an undermanned Oklahoma State team. But then Adrian Martinez came back from his November 5 injury against Texasth. Late in the game, Martinez fumbled and Texas left Manhattan, Kansas in a 34-27 win.

“The players were upset that they missed an opportunity. But you can’t trip over something that’s behind you. You just have to focus on the next game and move on,” said Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman.

With its back against the wall, Kansas State never looked back and played its best football late in the season. Will Howard took over the starting quarterback job and the Wildcats finished the regular season on a three-game winning streak. They crushed Baylor in Waco before taking care of business against West Virginia and rival Kansas to earn a spot in the Big 12 title game.

“Over the last four weeks, our pre-game preparation has been the best I’ve ever had with people who own it, get down to the last detail and play with incredible focus,” said Klieman. “Our boys were razor sharp.”

Once again, Kansas State got another shot at TCU, but the stakes were much higher. And this time it should be different.

“We didn’t come here for a competitor’s trophy. We came here to win this thing,” added Klieman. And that’s exactly what Kansas State did.

Despite injuries to their top receiver (Malik Knowles) and their cornerback (Ekow Boye-Doe), the Wildcats found a way to win the game. When the offense struggled, Deuce Vaughn stepped forward and made big plays, and Will Howard managed to keep the offense moving without turning the football over.

What makes Will Howard so special? Klieman summed it up simply: “Will Howard is an absolute winner.” He added, “But I have both him and Adrian (Martinez) to thank for the way this year has gone. Both kids certainly helped us win a Big 12 championship. Both children crowded around each other when the other wasn’t playing. It’s a culture. That’s a sign of a group of guys loving each other.”

Kansas State not only got back up from their falls, but they kept moving forward and fighting as a team. The way they reacted after their mistakes helped them win a Big 12 championship.

However, your work this season is not done yet. Next up is the Sugar Bowl to win their first Six Bowl game of the new year since the 2001 Cotton Bowl when they beat Tennessee 35-21.

After such a win in this game, will Kansas State have the same advantage? Based on how this team followed Klieman’s motto, “You just have to focus on the next game and move on,” there’s little doubt whoever plays K-State in New Orleans will bring out the best in this team. That’s how they’re built.

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