Oklahoma State struggled to stop Kansas State quarterback Jesse Ertz for 73 plays on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium. But on the Wildcats 74th and final offensive play – from the OSU 18-yard line – the Cowboys came up with the big play when Jordan Sterns intercepted Ertz’s pass into the end zone to preserve a 43-37 victory for 18th-ranked Oklahoma State.
OSU improves to 7-2 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12, while Kansas State drops to 5-4 and 3-3. It was just OSU’s second win in Manhattan, Kansas since 1988.
The Cowboys rallied for the win after falling behind 37-28 early in the fourth quarter on Ertz’s 1-yard touchdown run. The Wildcats junior quarterback rushed for a career-best 153 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries but the OSU defense stopped him on the final play.
Mason Rudolph, who has now led OSU to eight victories in games in which they trailed in the second half, threw for 457 yards and tied a career-high with five TDs. The fifth and final scoring throw was an 82-yard catch and run by James Washington for a score which pulled the Cowboys within 37-35 with 7:45 remaining.
“I was a little surprised that they allowed us to throw the ball over their heads in the fourth quarter. That was a shocker to me. I’m glad they did,” Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy said. “When [offensive coordinator Mike] Yurcich called it, I told him, ‘no.’ I said, ‘there’s no chance they’re going to let you throw it over their head, and you’re just going to burn a down.’ He said, ‘I want to take a shot at it.’ Shoot, James was 10 yards behind him, and that surprised me a little bit. That lifted our spirits."
Within two points with more than seven minutes to play, the Cowboys defense then forced Ertz and the Wildcats into only their second three-and-out series of the game.
Rudolph and the Cowboys offense – which finished with 637 total yards, including 180 on the ground – drove 80 yards in eight plays for the winning score. Chris Carson’s 17-yard TD run with 1:46 on the clock turned out to be the game-winning score.
But there were some scary moments for Gundy and all Cowboy fans as the Wildcats drove to the 3-yard line with 10 seconds left on the clock. Ertz’s pass to a diving Dominique Heath just shy of the goal line would have probably ended the game as the clock would have expired before the Wildcats could get another play off.
But a pass interference call on KSU’s Byron Pringle stopped the clock with four seconds, and pushed the Wildcats back to the 18-yard line for one final play. That’s when Cowboys middle linebacker Chad Whitener put pressure on Ertz as he threw into the end zone, and Sterns came down with the ball for his third interception of the season.
“If this would not have turned out good for us the storylines would have been turnovers and we couldn’t stop the run,” Gundy said, referencing three OSU turnovers (a fumbled punt by Barry J. Sanders and two interceptions thrown by Rudolph).
“But it did turn out good for us. Rudolph played better after he threw the two picks than he did before, and why that happens I don’t know. The first pick he threw for a [Kansas State] touch(down), the guy’s wide open and he overthrew him about eight feet.”
Carson led the Cowboys with 69 rushing yards on seven carries, including his 18-yard scoring run in the final two minutes.
The OSU receiving corps also came up with some big plays, including Washington (7 catches for 117 yards and two TDs), Jalen McCleskey (8 catches for 68 and 1 TD) and Blake Jarwin (2 catches for 92 yards, including a career-long 54-yard TD catch and run that gave the Cowboys a 14-13 lead in the second quarter).
“When you go on the road and can’t stop the run and turn the ball over three times it’s very, very difficult to win, and we did today,” Gundy said.
“We had everything happen to us that you don’t have a lot of substance and character on your team, you just go home and lose by about 20 points. We had two turnovers to start the second half and then we had a miscommunication on a protection call and had a blocked punt, so that’s three turnovers to start the second half. So if you’re trying to write a script for them (to win), that would be how you would write it. If you’re trying to write a script for us, that stinks.
“These games are nerve-wracking for all of us. Really for me, I enjoy watching it and seeing them rally,” Gundy added. “When we talk about no fear, no fatigue, no frustration in our program, they never showed any frustration, they just kept playing. Obviously, fatigue wasn’t an issue because they played better in the fourth quarter then they did in the third. So, their attitude, their body language, the character of who they are, the substance of this team, I can’t say anything but A-plus.”
The Cowboys return to Stillwater for their final regular season game of the season on Saturday against Texas Tech. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m.