MANHATTAN, Kansas - It was an impressive, resilient performance from North Texas Saturday night at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Playing the No. 14 team in the nation, a squad that steamrolled its first two opponents, North Texas competed from the opening kick. The Mean Green moved the ball, controlled the line of scrimmage, constructed long scoring drives, and answered every momentum shift.
The only thing missing was the final score.
The highly-favored Wildcats, who scored 103 points in the their first two games, escaped with a 35-21 win. It was K-State's big plays that overcame the Mean Green's tenacious ball-control attack.
"This team has a lot of pride, and that's why this loss hurts," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "Losing is not acceptable, but we'll build on this."
North Texas (1-2) got strong efforts from running backs Antoine Jimmerson and Brandin Byrd and an efficient, accurate passing night from Derek Thompson, who suffered through a rocky outing a week ago against Texas Southern but connected on 25-of-28 attempts for 208 yards and no interceptions.
"Derek played very well, and he made good decisions," McCarney said.
The North Texas defense held Kansas State (3-0) to 373 total yards, well below their season-average of almost 500 yards per game, while forcing two turnovers. But North Texas could not get pressure on KSU quarterback Collin Klein, and they led to some of the Wildcats' big plays.
"You go all night and not get any heat on the quarterback, he's going to make you look silly," McCarney said. "We've got to fix that."
Kansas State got a kickoff return for a touchdown, three scoring tosses of over 20 yards, and a pair of critical defensive stops deep in their end of the field to counter the Mean Green's balanced attack. Three Wildcat touchdowns in the final 18 minutes of the game turned a 14-13 nail-biter into a more comfortable lead.
Even down 35-13, North Texas didn't quit, putting together another long drive culminating in a Thompson-to-Chancellor touchdown pass for the final margin.
"Any Dan McCarney-coached team is going to be a good football team," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "Their offensive line knocked us around. Their backs played very well. They played aggressively, they had an excellent game plan, and their defense played lights out. Our two three-and-outs to start the game set the tone."
North Texas controlled much of the first half, picking up more yards and first downs and holding almost a 10 minute edge in time of possession. But two drives inside the KSU 30-yard line came up empty, and two big plays by the Wildcats undid much of the momentum the Mean Green had so carefully built.
The Mean Green held K-State without a first down in the opening quarter, and punt exchanges early in the game set up North Texas at their own 45. From there, Thompson engineered an 11-play, 55-yard scoring drive. North Texas converted two third downs and one fourth down, and Brelan Chancellor finished off the march with a six-yard reverse for a touchdown.
The 7-0 lead, however, lasted 13 seconds, long enough for KSU's Tyler Lockett to return the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to tie the game.
But, as they did throughout the first half, North Texas responded quickly. The Mean Green drove to the K-State 27 before KSU recorded the first sack of the year of Thompson, taking North Texas out of field goal range.
KSU finally picked up its first first down of the game early in the second quarter and put together its first drive of the game. But at the North Texas six-yard line, the Mean Green's Marcus Trice tore the ball from Wildcat running back John Hubert and recovered the fumble, keeping the score even. Again North Texas moved the ball, picking up 66 of their 174 first-half yards. Antoine Jimmerson's 45-yard run ignited the march, but this drive, too, came away with no points when a field goal attempt by Zach Olen was blocked.
The Wildcats then took their first lead of the game with their second big play of the game, a 38-yard pass from Collin Klein to Tramaine Thompson for a 14-7 lead.
North Texas answered to start the second half, driving 88 yards on 14 plays and burning 7:57 off the clock. Jimmerson got the touchdown, but the point-after attempt failed, leaving the Mean Green down, 14-13.
Kansas State took control from there, getting a 21-yard TD pass late in the third quarter and a touchdown run early in the fourth to seize a 28-13 advantage.