Ron Prince wanted his Wildcats to do two things on Saturday night, win and play well. Kansas State was able to achieve the first goal its season opener in front of more than 47,000 fans at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, but it's hard to argue that the Wildcats played well in a 24-23 win over Division I-AA member Illinois State, a game in which K-State failed to score an offensive touchdown and was limited to 207 yards of total offense.
The Redbirds couldn't have gotten off to a much better start. On the first snap of the game Wildcat quarterback Dylan Meier was intercepted by Redbird safety Tom Nelson, and ISU capitalized by driving 53 yards on 11 plays and capping off the drive with a 35-yard field goal by Kevin Mazur to put the Wildcats in a quick 3-0 hole. The key play of the possession was a 16-yard run by Pierre Rembert on a 3rd and 5 play, but the drive stalled thanks a sack by Ian Campbell, which helped force ISU settle for a field goal.
The Wildcat offense began to find a rhythm in its third drive of the game behind the passing of Meier, who connected on first down throws to Yamon Figurs and Rashaad Norwood, Norwood's catch a 21-yard pickup to move K-State deep into ISU territory. Running back Carlos Alsup kept the drive alive with a 1-yard gain on a 4th and 1 play, but K-State eventually had to settle for a 38-yard field goal try, which was missed by Jeff Snodgrass.
Snodgrass did atone for his miss by converting on a 52-yard attempt with just less than five minutes left in first half to cap off a 13-play, 59-yard drive. The Wildcats converted two third downs with completions to Figurs and Jermaine Moreira, but the drive stalled when Meier couldn't hook up with Norwood on a 3rd and 4 play. Snodgrass's kick tied the game 3-3 with 4:52 to play in the second quarter.
K-State took the lead less than three minutes later on an 81-yard punt return by Figurs, who after breaking through the initial wave was able to streak untouched down the left sideline to give his team a 10-3 advantage heading into the locker room.
Illinois State wasted little time in responding, as the Redbirds used a 70-yard completion from Drone to Pierre Jackson to move to K-State's 6-yard line, and three plays later Drone hooked up with star receiver Laurent Robinson in the end zone to tie the game at 10-10 with more than 12 minutes still left in the third quarter.
An interception by Wildcat linebacker Zach Diles set K-State up at the ISU 34-yard line, but the Wildcat offense continued to sputter and couldn't take full advantage of the turnover. The Wildcats did get on the scoreboard, however, on another Snodgrass field goal, this time from 41-yards out, to make it 13-10 with 4:35 left in the third quarter.
The Redbirds immediately answered back, driving 80 yards to regain the lead with just less than 13 minutes left to play. ISU methodically moved down the field in 13 plays while chewing up seven minutes off the clock and eventually scored on another pass from Drone To Rembert, this time from 2 yards out, to make it 17-13 in favor of the Redbirds.
K-State was able to respond, but not in the manner it would hope, as the Wildcats again had to settle for a field goal. Figurs set the Wildcats up with great field position thanks to a 41-yard kickoff return, and K-State was able to move all the way to the ISU 13-yard line, but Meier had a third-down pass attempt broken up by a Redbird defender, bringing on Snodgrass for a 30-yard field goal try. The kick drew K-State to within a point at 17-16 with 8:36 remaining the contest.
The Wildcats took the lead just seconds later, however, when linebacker Marcus Perry forced a ISU fumble that was recovered and returned for a score by Byron Garvin to give the Wildcats a 22-17 lead that was stretched out to 24-17 on a two-point conversion toss from Meier to Norwood.
As they did all night, Illinois State again answered the Wildcats with another touchdown on a 3-yard toss from Drone to Jackson that drew the Redbirds to within a point with only 3:02 left in the game. ISU chose to go for the win and attempted a two-point conversion, but Drone was stopped short and the Wildcats escaped with a victory in Prince's head coaching debut.
Campbell was the star for the Wildcats, finishing with three sacks and leading K-State to a win despite being out-gained 346-207 in total offense. The Wildcats will look to move to 2-0 next week when Florida Atlantic visits Manhattan.