Kansas State feeling deja vu after QB Skylar Thompson’s knee injury

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just hours after Chris Klieman took a knee with his head in his hands, watching the Kansas State medical staff prod and pull on quarterback Skylar Thompson‘s knee, the Wildcats’ coach said what just about everyone was thinking.

“Had some deja vu kind of going through my mind,” Klieman said. “I’m sick for the kid.”

Indeed, Thompson was flying high after a season-opening win over Stanford, his first time on the field since a shoulder injury early last season led him to return for a sixth season. And he was off to a good start against Southern Illinois, too, helping the Wildcats march for a quick touchdown Saturday and then to the brink of another one.

That’s when Thompson, rolling to his right ahead of running back Deuce Vaughn, suddenly pulled up and crumpled to the turf. He immediately rolled over and gripped his facemask, which served to hide his sudden fear and frustration.

Kansas State’s staff quickly ran onto the field and immediately began looking at his knee, which seemed to buckle in the open field. The immediate fear was obvious – torn ligaments that would likely end Thompson’s sterling if hard-luck college career – and they never really abated as Thompson was helped to the medical tent on the sideline.

Klieman said the injury may not be as severe as initially thought but that Thompson is out indefinitely.

“It was gut wrenching,” Vaughn said. “I saw him go down kind of in my peripheral vision, but I didn’t know what happened, and when I turned around and I saw him on his back kind of squirming in agony, it was pretty tough.”

Thompson eventually walked slowly to the locker room, providing the briefest bit of hope that he might return at some point this season, even though Klieman reined in the optimism in his postgame news conference.

“I can’t say right now,” Klieman said. “We’ll pray for the best and see what happens.”

It’s a strikingly similar situation to last year, when Thompson’s shoulder injury immediately pushed freshman Will Howard into a starting role. The biggest difference: Howard now has an entire season of experience behind him.

Not that it showed.

Howard appeared to be overwhelmed by the moment, going 8 of 17 for 76 yards against the Wildcats’ opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision. He lost a fumble and the only TD pass he threw went to the other team when P.J. Jules took an interception 41 yards to give Southern Illinois a 23-21 lead late in the third quarter.

Taiten Winkel’s field goal gave Kansas State the lead back midway through the fourth, and Howard finally found a little bit of rhythm in the final minutes to set up Vaughn’s clinching third touchdown run of the game.

Still, it wasn’t exactly a confidence-boosting performance under the Bill Snyder Family Stadium lights.

“It was pretty tough but I mean, we were at the same point last year, so we’ve kind of been through that already,” Kansas State offensive lineman Cooper Bebee said. “It just took us as an offensive line, us as a team, rallying around Will, kind of calming him down. And then from there we were fine.”

Howard and the Wildcats will need to be better than just fine the rest of the way.

They wrap up nonconference play against Nevada, which beat California on the road before last week’s win over Idaho State, then begin league play at Oklahoma State. Home games against No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 14 Iowa State follow.

That doesn’t give Howard a whole lot of time to find a groove again.

“Obviously heartbroken for Skylar. Me and him have developed a really close relationship over the past year or so and hope for the best for him,” Howard said. “But you have to come in and do my role as a backup. I’m happy to come in and be ready at all times. We won the game, so we’re always happy that we won, but there were a lot of things that we and I need to clean up. I know that more than anybody.”

Fresno State beats Boise State 28-16 for Mountain West title

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
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BOISE, Idaho – When Fresno State’s Jake Haener was presented with his biggest challenge of the season – taking down perennial conference power Boise State – coach Jeff Tedford long knew his quarterback would be up for the challenge.

Haener, who didn’t play against Boise State when the two teams met earlier in the season due to an ankle injury, threw for 184 yards and a touchdown to lead Fresno State to a 28-16 victory over the Broncos on Saturday in the Mountain West Conference championship game.

Fresno State (9-4) overcame a 1-4 start to the season and a rash of injuries to win its final eight games, claiming the program’s third Mountain West crown.

“We’ve come a long way since the first part of the year when a lot of people didn’t believe in us,” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford said. “But the staff did and the kids did. . It’s nice to see them happy.”

Boise State (9-4), which won 40-20 in the regular-season match-up between the teams, fell to 3-3 in Mountain West title games.

“We have to tip our hat to (Fresno State),” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “We obviously didn’t accomplish what we set out to do today, but we accomplished a lot of things this year. . And we do get one more opportunity in a bowl game.”

But it was Haener who delivered in the moments when Fresno State needed him most, which didn’t come as a surprise to Tedford.

The pair go all the way back to when Haener was 9 years old and looking for some help as a budding quarterback. A mutual friend connected him to Tedford and a long-lasting relationship was born.

“We worked together a little bit and I gave Jake a couple of goals, and he was so dedicated to those goals,” Tedford said. “I told him he had heavy feet and he needed to jump rope five hundred times without missing. Eight months later, I got a call from him, and he said, `I did it, I did it.”‘

Tedford, who recruited Haener out of high school, had to recruit him again when he entered the transfer portal after the coaching change at the end of last season and considered leaving Fresno State. But Tedford won him back.

“I wanted to be able to come back and play with this great group,” Haener said of his decision to stick it out at Fresno State for his senior season. “Once I got this guy (Tedford) on the other side of the phone, I knew I wanted to be here and play with this group. It’s been awesome and the adversity we’ve faced together has been one of the biggest challenges in my life. And it’s been awesome.”

Haener took full advantage of every miscue by the Broncos. The game’s offensive MVP was five of eight on third downs and led two key scoring drives in the fourth quarter.

“This is the golden boy of the conference and . to come up here against one of our biggest rivals in the conference, it definitely means more,” Haener said.

Boise State controlled the game early but struggled to find the end zone, clinging to a 3-0 lead late in the first half. But that all changed when Fresno State scored two touchdowns in a span of 2:36 right before halftime.

Nikko Remigio‘s electric 70-yard punt return snaking back and forth across the field sparked Fresno State. On the ensuing possession, defensive player of the game Cameron Lockridge intercepted the first of two passes, returning it 25 yards to the Broncos’ 17-yard line. Three plays later, Jordan Mims scored on a 2-yard run to put the Bulldogs up 14-3. They never relinquished the lead.

After Boise State edged within 14-9 in the third quarter, Fresno State took advantage of a roughing the punter penalty on fourth-and-15 to breathe new life into the drive. Haener finished with a 22-yard scoring strike to Zane Pope. He tacked on another scoring drive on the next possession to put the game out of reach.

Jordan Mims rushed for 83 yards and a pair of scores for Fresno State.

Boise State’s Taylen Green was 17-of-38 passing for 175 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

THE TAKEAWAY

Boise State: While Broncos quarterback Green made his initial splash on the team with his legs, it’s his arm that turned the season around. However, Green was often off-target against Fresno State.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs’ 10-3 campaign a year ago served as a springboard for sustained success in 2022. However, Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford, who has now won two Mountain West titles, will have his work cut out for him in 2023 as his talented team is losing eight seniors on offense and five more on defense. If he chooses to utilize the transfer portal, he could shore up the team’s short-term needs and keep Fresno State in contention for another conference title.

UP NEXT

Boise State: The Broncos await bowl-game designation.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs will face the fifth-place team from the PAC-12 in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl on Dec. 17.

Sanders’ 4 TDs help Jackson State rout Southern for SWAC title

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JACKSON, Miss. – Shedeur Sanders threw for four touchdowns, including two on three first-quarter turnovers, staking Jackson State to a big early lead on the way to routing Southern 43-24 in Saturday’s Southwest Athletic Conference championship that was Deion Sanders‘ final game as Tigers coach.

Reports swirled before the game that Sanders would announce his departure from the FCS program after three seasons to become head coach at Colorado. Sanders acknowledged an offer from the school earlier this week and added that he had talked to other FBS programs about vacancies. Colorado’s board of regents called a special meeting for Sunday.

Neither Sanders nor JSU spoke to reporters afterward. A SWAC spokesman said the team had proceeded to go to campus for a team meeting.

In an on-field interview played over JSU’s home field public address system, Sanders referred to JSU’s upcoming Celebration Bowl appearance and said, “We still have one more to go, and we will finish.”

Southern University head coach Eric Dooley spoke about what “Coach Prime” has done for the SWAC after the game and how appreciative he was of Sanders’ efforts.

“I was able to shake his hand and hug Deion and tell him he had a good football team,” said Dooley.

When asked about the rumors floating that Sanders is en route to Colorado, Dooley spoke plainly.

“I don’t get into that,” said Dooley. “It’s his decision. He’s made a huge impact on Jackson State.”

JSU (12-0) quashed any questions about Sanders’ future being a distraction by completing the first unbeaten regular season in school history and claiming its second consecutive SWAC championship. The Tigers’ top-ranked defense set the tone by quickly pouncing on the Jaguars for three turnovers in eight plays in the first quarter.

Aubrey Miller Jr., the SWAC defensive player of the year, led the Tiger defense to an exceptional effort as he totaled one sack and two tackles for loss.

The JSU came in as the top rated defense in the FCS, and they showed exactly why by forcing five turnovers, one of which was a fumble that junior defensive back Antonio Doyle Jr. returned to the Jags’ one yard line.

Shedeur Sanders, the Hall of Fame coach’s son, and the Tigers easily converted the takeaways into a 26-0 lead after 15 minutes, a run boosted by Sy’veon Wilkerson’s 1-yard TD run two plays after Herman Smith III’s 37-yard interception return. Two fumbles created chances for Sanders to hit Shane Hooks for TD passes of 14 and 40 yards and two-point conversions to Kevin Coleman Jr.

Sanders’ 14-yard TD pass to Coleman made it 33-7 at halftime, but Southern (7-5) didn’t quit and even got within 36-24 late in the third quarter on Glendon McDaniel’s 42-yard TD run.

Sanders, the SWAC’s offensive player of the year, completed 31 of 44 passes for 305 yards. Hooks caught five passes for 98 yards and Wilkerson rushed 15 times for 61 yards.

For their efforts, Sanders and Miller were awarded both the offensive and defensive MVP’s of the game.

McDaniel was 15 of 34 passing for 220 yards and a TD for Southern.

“I thought Glendon did some great things,” Dooley said.

The two teams slugged it out on the offensive end in terms of total yardage. Jackson State racked up 445 total yards to Southern’s 412.

The Tigers advanced to the Celebration Bowl, the championship for historically Black college football, on Dec. 17 in Atlanta against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina Central.

The Tigers’ victory improved Sanders to 27-5 as coach of the FCS program and came days after he was named SWAC coach of the year for the second consecutive season.

THE TAKEAWAY

Southern: The Jaguars mounted a strong second-half offensive effort behind Glendon McDaniel, but JSU’s initial onslaught on both sides of the ball was too much to handle.

Jackson State: The Tigers put together one of the most dominant seasons in school history with the SWAC’s top defense and offense. Both units proved why as the defense overwhelmed the Jaguars from the start, while

Sanders took advantage of short fields to complete pinpoint throws from clean pockets.

UP NEXT

Jackson State faces North Carolina Central in the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 17 in Atlanta.