ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Deuce Vaughn remembers what Chris Klieman told him when recruiting the running back to Kansas State.
Consider that a promise kept.
“Coach Klieman said we’re going to build a culture that’s going to win championships. It’s going to be built on team, player-first, a player-led team,” said Vaughn, the 5-foot-6 dynamo who was the Big 12 championship game MVP. “And we built that.”
Vaughn ran for 130 yards with a 44-yard touchdown and was the game’s MVP, former backup Will Howard threw two touchdowns and Ty Zentner kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime as the No. 13 Wildcats beat third-ranked playoff hopeful TCU 31-28 on Saturday.
“Big 12 champions has a nice ring to it,” said Klieman, who is in his fourth season at Kansas State.
The Wildcats (10-3, No. 10 CFP), likely headed to the Sugar Bowl, reached 10 wins for the first time since 2012, when it last won a Big 12 title by sharing the regular-season crown with Oklahoma during a six-year hiatus when there was no conference championship game.
It was the first Big 12 championship game for the Wildcats since 2003. They won 35-7 over the then-No. 1 Sooners that year, who like TCU on Saturday went into that title game undefeated.
This is Klieman’s fourth season at Kansas State since Hall of Fame coach Bill Snyder retired again. Klieman went to Manhattan after being part of seven FCS national championships at North Dakota State, including four in five seasons as head coach there.
“I’m fortunate to be here. Gene Taylor took a chance on an FCS coach when not a lot of people would. But he believed in me and us,” Klieman said. “And coming here, I look at these guys that believed in us as a coaching staff when there was a coaching change and stuck with us.”
Klieman had worked under Taylor, the Kansas State athletic director, at North Dakota State.
After blowing an 11-point lead in the final 7 1/2 minutes of regulation, the Wildcats got the ball in overtime after stopping TCU running back Kendre Miller twice from inside the 1, the second on fourth down when the Horned Frogs opted against a field goal try in overtime.
“That was just great execution, just overall, by the defense,” said linebacker Daniel Green, who was in on the fourth-down stop. “That’s a statement right there. We always say the mob, mob mentality. It don’t get no better than that, on the goal line for the game, almost.”
Six weeks earlier, the Wildcats jumped out to a 28-10 lead early in the second quarter at TCU before the Horned Frogs (12-1, No. 3 CFP) scored the game’s last 28 points.
That was Howard’s first action of the season, coming in after transfer dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez got banged up on the first series. Martinez got hurt again at Baylor, and Howard has now started the last three games.
Kansas State has won its last four games, and five of six, since that 38-28 loss at TCU on Oct. 22.
“Like coach said, it started in January, this team coming together and believing in each other,” Green said. “And belief is what won us this game. We came into this game knowing it was going to be a dogfight and we were going to have to earn it. But not one second of that game we didn’t believe.”
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