MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Saturday night’s game was not going the way most Kansas State fans, players and coaches had anticipated. Fans were booing the offense and making a quick exit, not just in fear of seeing a season-opening upset, but mostly in sheer disgust at the way things were going.
Then Isiah Zuber’s late punt return changed everything, sparking a two-touchdown fourth quarter and a 27-24 Kansas State victory over South Dakota.
After struggling to gain any footing for a majority of the game, the Kansas State offense seemed to have hit rock bottom as South Dakota punted the ball away early in the fourth quarter to Zuber, who returned it 85 yards for a touchdown to pull the Wildcats to 24-19. The score woke up a sleepy and agitated Bill Snyder Family Stadium, which saw fans head toward the exits just minutes before Zuber’s punt return.
However, Zuber was not done making plays.
After Kansas State forced the Coyotes to another punt, Skylar Thompson connected with Zuber for a 10-yard touchdown pass and the game-winning score with 7:21 remaining.
Zuber led the Wildcats in receiving with five catches for 68 yards and one touchdown.
Although the Wildcats picked up their first victory of the season, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder was not happy afterward describing his emotions.
“Well I am, you know all of them,” Snyder said. Angered, disappointed, etc. But it goes back again, well, we can say all we want about anything but I just don’t have them prepared to play. If they were ready to play the way we wanted them to, which is my responsibility, we would have probably fared a little bit better than what we did.”
South Dakota, which had led for a majority of the game, was given new life with just 50 seconds left after forcing an Alex Barnes’ fumble deep in Coyote territory.
The Coyotes drove down the field and set up for what would have been a game-tying field goal, but Mason Lorber missed a 51-yard attempt as time expired.
“Unfortunately, we had the ball and with a little bit of a breeze we wanted to get it down around the 25-yard line and try to get a field goal attempts in the low forties,” Coyotes coach Bob Nielson said.
“We had a play call to run one of those hitch routes and take a timeout. Then we had the false start penalty and we were really on the far outside of the goal. He (Mason) has made them in practice, he obviously did not hit that one very good.”
South Dakota’s Austin Simmons was 24-of-56 passing for 257 yards and a touchdown.
Kansas State: With new coordinators on both sides of the ball, it would be expected the Wildcats would have some struggles, but the only positives on the night were out of kicker Blake Lynch and Zuber. Both Thompson and Alex Delton had ample opportunities to make their claim for the starting quarterback job, but neither could gain any ground by the end of the game.
South Dakota: The Coyotes were not able to come up with a win over an FBS opponent for the second straight season, but one solid takeaway is how well the Coyotes were in control for much of the game. They did a great job limiting the Kansas State offense for three quarters and had many Kansas State fans, players and coaches frustrated throughout the night.
One of the more surprising events of the evening was Kansas State running back Alex Barnes struggling to hold on to the football. He coughed it up three times, the last time while the Wildcats were attempting to ice the ballgame. Snyder said he had never seen Barnes fumble this many times.
For the first time since 2016 against Florida Atlantic, the Wildcats went over 100 yards in penalties. Whether they be of the drive-killing variety on offense or saving a South Dakota drive, Kansas State was not their usually disciplined selves and that could loom troublesome with No. 18 Mississippi State coming into town next week.
Kansas State’s calling card for years has been in the special teams and tonight was no exception. Four made field goals by Blake Lynch and a punt return for a touchdown by Isaiah Zuber were the difference against South Dakota.
Meanwhile, South Dakota missed two field goals, including the game winner, and also gave up a punt return for a touchdown.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
In his first career start, Kansas State kicker Blake Lynch netted four field goals from 22, 24, 38 and 44 yards as well as an extra point.
Kansas State hosts Mississippi State on Saturday.
South Dakota hosts Northern Colorado on Saturday.
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