MANHATTAN, Kan. — Oklahoma State knew it could venture into the Wildcat Den and beat the second-ranked team in all the land.
Under one condition.
“We can't give 'em free points,” Cowboy captain Quinn Sharp said of the top priority against Kansas State.
Can't turn the ball over.
Can't surrender momentum.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they did just that time and again. And again. And again. And again.
K-State 44, OSU 30.
On a night when the Cowboys had a chance to get back within one score in the final minutes of the game, it was fitting that their final drive ended in an interception. Turnovers were the story of this game with the Cowboys committing five big ones and the Wildcats committing none.
“They're a great team,” Sharp said of the Wildcats. “But you can't turn the ball over five times and expect to beat the No. 2 ranked team in the country.”
No doubt about that.
And yet, the Cowboys still had a chance to make things interesting even playing with their third-string quarterback.
More on that in a minute.
The Cowboys had a perfect start to this game. The defense forced Collin Klein and the Wildcats to punt on their first possession, then the offense scored on a quick six-play, 80-yard drive that was capped with a big 54-yard touchdown pass from Wes Lunt to Austin Hays.
The momentum swung quickly to the Cowboys. Suddenly, the idea of a team with a true freshman quarterback going on the road and knocking off the second-ranked team in the country seemed possible.
Even after K-State took a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter, OSU had no reason to panic. The offense was moving the ball, and the defense was hanging in there against Optimus Klein.
Then, Joe Randle fumbled.
Worse, he did so deep in OSU territory.
Just like that, momentum had swung to the Wildcats, and they capitalized. Six plays later, John Hubert bowled into the end zone.
The Cowboys tried their darnedest to match the Wildcats' punches.
After Hubert's run, there was a Sharp field goal.
After a 100-yard kickoff return by Tyler Lockett, there was an 80-yard kickoff return by Cowboy reserve Desmond Roland.
“We try to make positives out of them,” Cowboy defensive coordinator Bill Young said. “If the other team does something, then we need to match it, and we challenge our players in that respect.”
But after a Lunt interception led to a Wildcat pick-six late in the first half, there was no Cowboy counterpunch. Instead, there was another Lunt interception.
The start of the second half brought another Lunt interception, though he might not have been thinking straight. He took a shot two plays before the interception that caused an apparent concussion. After the interception, Lunt didn't return.
With back-up J.W. Walsh still sidelined with a knee injury, Clint Chelf, the Cowboys' third-string quarterback, took over.
Truth be told, he did a heck of a job, throwing for 233 yards and one touchdown.
And with Klein sidelined with his own injury — apparently, his wrist — the Cowboy defense held the Wildcats to only a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter.
Add all that together, and when Chelf and the Cowboys got the ball back with a little over four minutes left in the game, they were down only 14 points and actually had a chance to get OSU within a touchdown. Considering all the turnovers and all the upheaval, it was a credit to the Cowboys.
Cowboy coach Mike Gundy called that a bright spot.
The Cowboys drove deep into Wildcat territory, all the way to the 8-yard line, but that's where Chelf was intercepted.
Turnover No. 5 for OSU.
“They're a great team, and they made a lot of plays,” Chelf said, “but it came down to a couple of possessions that we turned the ball over. You're not going to win like that.
“We definitely had to play better than we did.”
Sharp said, “They're a very methodical team. That's what they're known for.”
The Wildcats don't beat themselves.
On this night, the Cowboys did.
“We just kind of fumbled on ourselves,” Sharp said.
They did it too many times to beat many teams, but they definitely did it too many times to go on the road and beat a great team like K-State.