Skylar Thompson stared down a receiver to his left but saw double coverage. He brought the ball back to his right, rolling out to his right as the seconds ticked down to zero against Iowa State. Run it in from the 1, he thought. Then he saw Isaiah Zuber come free at the back of the end zone.
“Skylar Thompson,” ESPN color analyst Ahmad Brooks said as the Wildcats poured onto the field to celebrate a thrilling 20-19 victory over Iowa State in their regular-season finale on Nov. 25, “welcome to stardom.”
Thompson is Kansas State’s late-season magician. The redshirt freshman started the season as the third-string quarterback, but has helped the Wildcats (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) to four wins in their past five games heading into the bowl season.
Starter Jesse Ertz injured his knee in the fifth game of the season, which pressed sophomore Alex Delton into action. Delton lost his first two starts, games against TCU and Oklahoma, and sustained injuries in each of the next two games. That’s when Thompson got his first taste of glory.
He helped the Wildcats stave off a comeback attempt from Kansas, scoring the game-sealing touchdown with a 4-yard rush with 1:21 to go. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass the next week to take down Texas Tech in overtime. He tossed three touchdowns in Kansas State’s upset over No. 10 Oklahoma State. Then he led an 87-yard touchdown pass to win the game against Iowa State.
After they rose to No. 18 in the national rankings with a 2-0 start, the Wildcats lost four of their next five, but used the November surge to grab a fourth-place finish in the Big 12.
WHO’S COACHING THE WILDCATS?
Now in his 26th year in Manhattan, Kan., head coach Bill Snyder is one of only four people to be inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame as an active coach when he was honored in 2015. He is the national leader among active FBS coaches in wins at their current schools with a 209-110-1 overall record.
BY THE NUMBERS
186.7 – Rushing yards per game by Kansas State, which ranks second in the Big 12, but the Wildcats’ leading rusher, Alex Barnes, averages only 58.5 yards per game. Thompson is a running threat at quarterback and averages 4.1 yards per rush.
65 – The percentage of Kansas State’s plays that are rushing attempts. Despite recent improvement against the run, the Bruins are still second-to-last in the country, allowing 282.7 yards on the ground per game.
3 – Trips to the Cactus Bowl for Snyder during his…