3:35 PM ET, October 7, 2006
Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, KS
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) -- When Ron Prince benched seniors to start freshmen, critics groused that Kansas State's first-year coach was already giving up on this season and looking toward next year.
The moves paid off a little quicker than that.
Quarterback Josh Freeman and running back Leon Patton, two of five freshmen starting on offense Saturday, didn't look much like first-time starters in Saturday's 31-27 comeback victory over Oklahoma State.
Patton ran for 151 yards and one touchdown and returned a kickoff 95 yards for another score, and Freeman got rolling late and ran 21 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 1:11 left.
But if Prince was feeling vindicated, after being second-guessed in columns and message boards all week, he didn't show it.
"There's no last laugh," he said. "This is just one game in the season. Much to many of your chagrin, I don't read anything you write -- so I don't have anything to hold against you."
Freeman, the first freshman to start for the Wildcats since Duane Howard in 1976, was sacked four times and had just six passing attempts going into the fourth quarter.
But in the last four minutes, he was spectacular.
His 43-yard completion to Jermaine Moreira set up Patton's 1-yard TD run with 3:04 left.
That score, which broke a seven-quarter stretch without an offensive touchdown, got the Wildcats within 27-24. Oklahoma State couldn't muster a clock-killing drive in response, and Freeman needed only three plays to give Kansas State the lead.
"Adrenaline took over, and I just took off," said Freeman, who finished the day 10-for-15 for 177 yards and did not throw an interception. "It was a designed pass, and the line did a great job of opening up the middle of the field for me. The pressure came, the line spread it out and I just ran. Moreira made a great block."
Safety Marcus Watts also had a huge game for the Wildcats (4-2, 1-1 Big 12), who trailed 27-17 with just over three minutes left before coming back to beat the Cowboys (3-2, 0-1) for the sixth straight time in Manhattan and the 10th time in their last 11 meetings.
Watts blocked a punt that Gonzalez returned 21 yards for Kansas State's first score. In the closing seconds, Watts broke up what would have been a game-winning catch by Adarius Bowman, then intercepted Bobby Reid's tipped pass in the end zone as time ran out.
"I've got to tip my hat to the safety," Reid said. "He made a good play. I thought [Bowman] had it. I thought he caught it for a touchdown and it was over."
Watts left his designated area to make the play on Bowman, smacking the receiver just as the ball arrived.
"They told us all week that their quarterback would stare down his receivers," Watts said. "He was looking at him the whole time, so I left my landmark and broke early on him. Luckily, I got there at the same time as the ball -- and luckily, he couldn't hold on."
Reid threw two short scoring passes and Keith Toston ran for 109 yards and one touchdown for Oklahoma State. Toston's 11-yard TD carry, on the first snap after Grant Jones' 89-yard kickoff return, was the third score in a 53-second span in the third quarter.
The Cowboys went up 13-10 on Reid's 2-yard pass to Brandon Pettigrew with 5:36 left in the third. But on the ensuing kickoff, Patton's 95-yard return gave the Wildcats a 17-13 lead.
"I remember seeing a hole and coming through it," Patton said. "Somebody grabbed onto my foot, but I knew our team needed to score and so I tried my best to get free and get into the end zone."
Jones responded with his own big return, and Toston's burst up the middle put Oklahoma State ahead 20-17 with 4:43 left in the third. Reid's second TD pass, a 1-yard toss to John Johnson, made it 27-17 early in the fourth quarter before Freeman led Kansas State's comeback.
"I have to put that on myself," Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. "I have to do a lot better job of getting guys ready to get the job done."
The Wildcats threatened to break their offensive drought in the first quarter, when Patton broke a 40-yard sweep to the Cowboys' 5-yard line. But on fourth-and-goal from the 1, linebacker Chris Collins stuffed Patton for a 2-yard loss.
The Wildcats went up 7-0 early in the second quarter on Gonzalez's return of Watts' punt block. Oklahoma State's Jason Ricks and Kansas State's Jeff Snodgrass traded field goals later in the second quarter, and Ricks' 38-yarder early in the third got the Cowboys within 10-6.