MANHATTAN, Kan. — It didn’t do Kansas State coach Bill Snyder any good to yell into his headset for Tramaine Thompson to let the second-half kickoff land out of bounds Saturday night. There was no way the wide receiver could have heard him across the field.
It turned out to be a good thing, too.
Thompson fielded the kick with his toes nearly on the white out-of-bounds line, and then meandered through the Louisiana-Lafayette coverage, tightrope-walking up the sideline for 94-yard touchdown return that helped the Wildcats beat the Ragin’ Cajuns 48-27.
“I knew I probably should have let it go, but we haven’t had a lot of chances to return a ball,” Thompson said with a smile. “In my mind I was just thinking, ‘I have to catch this,’ and special teams being as huge as it is for us, I just wanted to make a play.”
Thompson made another one later in the third quarter, when he returned a punt 61 yards to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 1-yard line and set up a short touchdown run by Jake Waters. Ty Zimmerman’s 32-yard interception return for another score moments later helped secure a much-needed bounce-back win.
“I think there were some things on the field that would allow you to believe we’re better than last week,” said Snyder, whose team was upset by North Dakota State in its season opener.
Of course, there was still plenty of room for improvement.
Terrance Broadway ran for a touchdown and threw for a touchdown for the Ragin’ Cajuns (0-2), and Darryl Surgent returned a kickoff a school-record 100 yards for another score.
“In the conference that we’re in,” Snyder said, “you can’t play a half or a quarter or three quarters or whatever it may be. We just do not have the consistency right now.”
But they have the ability — in spurts.
Waters threw for 278 yards while splitting time at quarterback with Daniel Sams, who ran for 63 yards and a score. Tyler Lockett had eight catches for 111 yards, and John Hubert ran for two touchdowns as the Wildcats avoided their first 0-2 start since 1989.
“We played an SEC team that has had a lot of success and we played the defending Big 12 champions,” Ragin’ Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth said. “We feel terrible right now because we’re 0-2, but we really feel like we could have beat both of them.
“We just can’t make the mistakes we made tonight to compete with a team like this.”
The teams traded field goals early before Kansas State got in gear, with Hubert capping a 71-yard drive with a 7-yard scamper. The Ragin’ Cajuns failed to pull off a fake punt on their ensuing possession, and Sams finished another TD drive with a hip-swiveling 13-yard run to make it 17-3.
Jack Cantele’s second field goal of the half gave Kansas State a 20-3 lead at the break.
The real fireworks came early in the third quarter.
Thompson fielded the opening kickoff, made a couple of nimble moves up the Louisiana-Lafayette sideline and raced the rest of the way to the end zone. The kickoff return gave Kansas State at least one in a nation-leading nine straight seasons.
Thompson’s big punt return and Waters’ TD plunge gave Kansas State a 34-3 lead.
The Ragin’ Cajuns answered with Surgent’s kickoff return. An interception by Dominick Jones later in the third quarter set up Broadway’s touchdown run and got them within 34-17.
“We never got down on ourselves. We never let up,” Jones said. “We just kept fighting.”
Louisiana-Lafayette got the ball back quickly, too, but momentum swung back to Kansas State when Zimmerman caught a tipped pass and returned the pick for a touchdown. It was the senior’s 11th career interception, moving him into sixth place in the school record books.
Broadway tried to rally the Ragin’ Cajuns once more, hitting Robinson from 18 yards out for a touchdown late in the third quarter. After getting the ball back, their next drive stalled and they had to settle for Stephen Brauchle’s 26-yard field goal to get within 41-27 with 10:55 left.
Kansas State put the game away when Sams, taking over for Waters, hit tight end Zach Trujillo for a 27-yard gain. The speedy Sams then ripped off three long runs to set up Hubert, the 5-foot-7 wrecking ball, who powered into the end zone for his second touchdown.
“We feel better. We came out to prove something to night,” Sams said, “but we can’t stop here. We just have to keep going and find what motivates us to be great.”
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