NORMAN, Okla. -- Following a 42-30 loss to No. 22 Oklahoma Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder did what he could to toss aside talk of moral victories and focus on results, but while no coach or player wore a smile, outscoring the Sooners 30-21 in the final three quarters of the game could not be dismissed as insignificant. Even if the veteran head coach and most of his players insisted there are no such things as moral victories, what took place this weekend was as close at it gets.
"A loss is a loss," Snyder said following the game "I think the fact that the youngsters did come back, and make the effort and get us back in the game is a positive. I don't know, though."
Falling into an early hole is never ideal, and doing so while taking on one of the nation's very best defenses usually ends in disaster, but on Saturday, the Wildcats decided to test the theory. Ultimately, the result was predicable, even if the visiting side did look poised to defy the odds late.
"We were very close. It was a one-possession game in the third quarter," said K-State quarterback Grant Gregory, who threw for 175 yards in the loss. "We were very close to winning. "
While the Wildcats' defense held the Sooner to just 14 second-half points, it failed to get the stop it needed most and allowed the Sooners to stretch their lead out to 12 when Murray capped off a 68-yard drive with 3-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown scamper with less than seven minutes left to play.
Sure the Wildcats had chances to seize the lead in the game's late stages, but at the end of the day, their fourth loss of 2009 was decided in the early going.
Snyder's team saw itself out-gained 158 to 19 in the first quarter and failed to post a two-digit number in the passing yards column. Simply put, for 15 full minutes, the drives were short, the defense was soft and K-State found itself down 21-0 in the blink of an eye.
The feeling was all too familiar.
"The Texas Tech game did flash into my mind," Gregory said. "At some point, guys were just playing for personal pride. It took a quarter, but we decided we weren't going to get embarrassed like that ever again."
The Wildcats didn't collect a single first down until late in the opening quarter and played more than 17 minutes before crossing the 50-yard line. But after ending the first half with just nine points, including a converted field goal off the foot of Wildcat place-kicker Josh Cherry, something seemed to click.
"We went into halftime and Coach Snyder told us some things," said junior tailback Daniel Thomas, who ran for 89 yards and a score against the Sooners. "He told us we could either show the world what type of team were by fighting back or we could just give up."
The Wildcats, as it turned out, chose the first option and proceeded to hang 21 second-half points on Oklahoma while standing toe-to-toe with going toe for toe in total offense.
Back-to-back touchdown runs by Thomas and then second running back option Keithen Valentine to open the half cut the Sooner lead to 28-23, making a game that once seemed on pace to reach blowout status suddenly appear manageable.
Thomas and Valentine combined to run for 106 yards and three touchdowns against the nation's third-ranked rush defense, a unit that had previously surrendered just one rushing score all season.
"I guess it's a little consolation," Thomas said. "They're one of the best defensive in the country. If we can move the ball against them, we can move it against anybody."
Just when the momentum appeared to shifting toward the road team, however, the K-State defense used a momentary lapse to turn something into nothing.
After an OU score was negated by a holding call early in the fourth quarter, a personal foul call forced Oklahoma to deal with first-and-45 in its own half of the field. K-State hadn't been in a better position all evening, but instead of reclaiming possession with a change to surge into the lead, the Wildcats allowed their opponent to move the chains when quarterback Landry Jones found wide receiver Ryan Broyles for a 25-yard third down conversion that barely moved the chains.
The Sooners would find the end zone just five plays later, when Jones found tailback DeMarco Murray with a six-yard touchdown pass, one of four he threw on the day, that stretched the lead to 12. Yet still, the Wildcats refused to die in front of a hostile crowd.
The ensuing kickoff brought a familiar sight, as K-State return man Brandon Banks, who set a school record for all-purpose yards in a game by gaining 351 on Saturday, went 96 yards for a score that brought the count to 35-20.
"It opened up for me and I just hit a hole," Banks said, describing his Big 12-record fourth kick return score of the year. "It was a return right, but I bounced it left and got into the end zone."
Banks caught nine passes for 156 yards while Oklahoma's Dejuan Miller matched that, hauling in nine of his own for 94 and one score.
Sooners' tailbacks Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray each carried the ball 15 times in the win and combined to gain 145 yards on the ground.
The Wildcats, now 3-2 in conference play and 5-4 overall, continue their season next Saturday, when they are set to host 5-3 and 1-3 Kansas in this year's Sunflower Showdown.