MANHATTAN — Through all the ups and downs of his football career at Kansas State, Will Howard never got carried away.
That wasn’t possible Saturday as his Wildcats teammates hoisted Howard onto their shoulders and carried him to the locker room surrounded by adoring fans who had stormed the field.
And for good reason.
Howard, who learned minutes before kickoff that he would step in for the injured Adrian Martinez at quarterback, put on a performance worthy of a hero’s parade. So did the rest of the No. 22 Wildcats, who dominated No. 9 Oklahoma State from start to finish in an improbable 48-0 shutout at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Howard, who completed 21-of-37 passes for a career-high 296 yards and four touchdowns in the rush that lifted the Wildcats into sole possession of second place in the Big 12. “I’ll cherish that for the rest of my life.
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“I’m a humble guy. I don’t like the spotlight on me or anything, but in that situation I didn’t really have a choice. They just picked me up. But it was really cool and I have to give my mom a huge chunk on the field, so it’s meant the world to me.”
With the win, K-State improved to 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big 12, one game behind league leader TCU. Oklahoma State falls to 6-2 overall and third in the conference at 3-2.
Howard, who had his ups and downs in each of the previous two seasons when starter Skylar Thompson was injured, was thrown into a similar situation last Saturday when Martinez lasted just one series at TCU. Howard led the Wildcats to four touchdowns in the first half, but it wasn’t enough as the Horned Frogs rallied for a 38-28 victory.
Martinez, who had limited practice time during the week, warmed up with the No. 1 offense before the Oklahoma State game, but when the Wildcats took the field, it was Howard behind center.
More:Recap: Kansas State destroyed Oklahoma State, 48-0, to take second place in the Big 12
“Until we walked in, whenever we walked in — 14, 15, 25 minutes before the game, when we came (to the locker room) — that’s when we made the decision,” K-State coach Chris Klieman said. “Collin (Klein, offensive coordinator) and I talked to both quarterbacks and Adrian didn’t feel like he was 100 percent confident in what he was going to be able to do, and I appreciate that because the kid is a team player. .
“We knew we were going to be good either way because Will was going through most of the reps with 1s.
Quarterback Deuce Vaughn, who had a big game himself, felt the Wildcats were in good shape when he saw Howard moments before kickoff.
“Once he got the nod in the locker room before we came out, he probably punched every single person in that locker room and said I’m playing for all of you. And whenever I saw him, that’s when I knew he was starting,” Vaughn said. “He came in and said, ‘I’m playing for all of you guys,’ and you could see the type of game he was going to have.
“And for him to go out there and do that, I was so proud of him. I love him to death, and for him to do that today, man, I’m super excited for his future and the future of this team.” and it’s going to be fun.”
Howard was on his game from the start, as evidenced by the Wildcats’ first touchdown. On fourth down and 10 from Oklahoma State’s 38-yard line, he threw a pass down the left sideline to Kade Warner, who hauled it in for a score.
More:Kansas State football starts Will Howard at quarterback against Oklahoma State
The Wildcats never looked back. Vaughn, who rushed for 158 yards, made it 14-0 on a 62-yard run with less than seven minutes left, and Howard threw three more touchdown passes in the second quarter for a 35-0 halftime advantage.
Howard hit Phillip Brooks for 31 yards, Warner for a 41-yard catch and run and then Vaughn for one yard with seven seconds left before halftime.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Will Howard and the way he came out and electrified the crowd, electrified the team, he had a great position (and) he had a lot of confidence,” Klieman said. “The fourth down play got us started, we went for it fourth and long and Kade made the big touchdown.
“I just thought we stayed in the fight the whole time. I never felt comfortable until midway through the fourth quarter. I just kept telling those guys, ‘Stay in the fight, stay in the fight,’ and they did. .”
It didn’t hurt that the defense turned in by far its best effort of the season, holding powerhouse Oklahoma State to 217 total yards, including 54 yards on the ground. The Cowboys entered the game ranked No. 3 in scoring nationally, averaging 44.7 points per game.
But it was Howard who took center stage.
“Oh my God, he’s on top of the world right now,” said Warner, who caught five passes for 97 yards. “You see the confidence he plays and the confidence he walks around the facility.
Howard, a junior, was on track to redshirt this year before being called into action at TCU. Depending on Martinez’s health, he could still redshirt, provided he doesn’t start more than four games.
“I’m for the team and what happens, happens,” he said. “I don’t know what the deal is with Adrian and we’ll take it one day at a time.
One thing is certain. Howard is a different defender now than he was the last two years.
“I’m feeling really confident and after two years of some struggles, some trials, it’s a bit of a cliché, but people say your game slows down, and for me the game definitely slowed down,” Howard said. “It’s really cool to have guys around who make the plays that they are. An O-line that hardly lets me touch.”
“And you just look around and see that look in everybody’s eyes, and everybody had that look today. It was, ‘We’re not going to stop until the clock says zero, and we’re keeping our foot on the gas.’ that’s what we did and it was a great game.”
Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett Network. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @arnegreen.