Auburn squeaks past K-State in Manhattan
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The HDN
MANHATTAN - Curry Sexton was trying to make sense of it all, but really the answer was pretty simple.
That's what made it so frustrating.
With a national television audience tuned in and a frenzied sellout crowd itching to celebrate, the Kansas State Wildcats just weren't themselves.
"I'd rather get beat by 50 points than lose a game that we should have won," Sexton said after No. 5-ranked Auburn escaped Snyder Family Stadium on Thursday night with a 20-14 victory over the mistake-plagued Wildcats. "It's heartbreaking.
"The work we put in for this game and for this season, to beat ourselves is really disappointing and we really did, and anybody will tell you that. That's tough."
The numbers don't lie.
The No. 20 Wildcats (2-1) turned the ball over three times, once in the Auburn end zone with two others leading to Tiger field goals.
They also missed three field goals.
"We're a program that has built ourselves on not beating ourselves," said Sexton, who had a career game with 11 catches for 121 yards. "If you look at the games over the last four or five years, the other teams are the ones that are minus in the turnover category, up there in the penalties and not converting in the red zone."
And still the Wildcats had life with two minutes remaining before Auburn (3-0) converted a long third-down pass from Nick Marshall to Duke Williams that allowed the Tigers to run out the clock.
Asked if Auburn beat his team or the Wildcats beat themselves, K-State coach Bill Snyder was succinct.
"The latter," he said. "There's a ton of mistakes that were made that impacted the outcome of the ballgame.
"Auburn is a tremendous football team and we just made too many mistakes."
Not until K-State's Jack Cantele missed a 22-yard tying field goal with less than five minutes left in the third quarter and Auburn took it 80 yards the other way for a touchdown did the game seem to slip away.
The Tigers used 15 plays and 5 minutes, 34 seconds to grab a 17-7 lead on Marshall's 9-yard touchdown pass to Williams with 14:10 left. On the next possession, Trovon Reed intercepted Jake Waters at the K-State 47 and ran 5:48 more off the clock before Daniel Carlson extended the margin to 13.
K-State had one last gasp, driving 65 yards in 11 plays to pull within six on Charles Jones' 1-yard touchdown run but never got the ball back.
Though it seemed throughout that this just wasn't K-State's night, defensive end Ryan Mueller never thought so.
"Not at all," he said. "To me the game is not over until it's 0:00 on the clock," he said. "If there's one second left and we're down by 40 points, that's my mindset."
K-State hung in statistically with Auburn, finishing with 285 yards of total offense to 359 for the Tigers. Auburn, which had eclipsed 200 yards rushing in 13 straight games, managed just 128 against the Wildcats while Marshall completed 17 of 31 passes for 231 yards.
"They played big-time tonight," Sexton said of the defense. "They played well enough for us to win the ballgame and we didn't help them out."
The frustration surfaced early and often for the Wildcats' offense, beginning with their first offensive possession, when Waters fumbled a handoff and Auburn recovered at the K-State 21-yard line. The Tigers settled for a 38-yard Carlson field goal, but it was just the beginning.
K-State marched 74 yards on its next series, picking up first and goal at the Auburn 2 when Tiger cornerback Jonathan Jones was called for pass interference against Tyler Lockett. But two plays later, on second down from the 1, Waters hit Lockett on a slant in the end zone and it bounced off his hands to Jones for an interception.
"I just dropped the ball," Lockett said. "That's just the primary point right there, I dropped the ball.
"Jake threw a perfect pass; it's a pass that I would catch every day in practice. I just dropped the ball."
Lockett, a preseason All-American, did catch six passes for 45 yards and set up the Wildcats' first touchdown with a 26-yard punt return.
"I just saw two on two, so I went to a play that I like a lot," said Waters, who completed 24 of 40 passes for 245 yards with two picks. "Tyler usually makes that catch, but if anybody is blaming him they're out of their mind because we wouldn't have even been in the game without Tyler.
"He's our best player, he's our leader and we all look up to him so much. I'm not really sure what happened, though."
While the offense shot itself in the foot, the defense kept K-State in the game.
After Lockett returned a punt 37 yards to the Auburn 43, the Wildcats knocked on the door again before stalling at the Tiger 24, where Cantele's nightmare began. He missed a 41-yard field goal, one of three different ones with a chance to tie the game. Cantele also was off the mark from 42 yards on the last play of the first half, allowing Auburn to take a 10-7 lead to the locker room.
"We had bad snaps and bad holds on two of them," Snyder said of the misses.
The Wildcats took their only lead, 7-3, on DeMarcus Robinson's 1-yard run with 4:56 left in the half, capping a six-play, 57-yard drive set up by Lockett's punt return.
But Auburn answered with a 75-yard drive, scoring on Marshall's 40-yard pass to Ricardo Louis with 1:34 on the clock to lead at intermission.