Oklahoma State had its chances on Saturday night in Manhattan but some of the Cowboys' old enemies came back into the mix, costing the Pokes a chance to upset the second-ranked Kansas State Wildcats on the road.
Five costly turnovers and porous kick coverage took Oklahoma State out of contention on the Kansas plains in a 44-30 loss to the Wildcats, who tightened their grasp on the Big 12 title race in the process.
The Cowboys struck first in the opening quarter. After forcing a KSU punt on the game's opening possession, freshman quarterback Wes Lunt connected with fellow freshman receiver Austin Hays for a 54-yard touchdown strike to give the Pokes an early 7-0 advantage but that would be the last time OSU would lead on Saturday.
KSU answered with a touchdown drive of its own and then tacked on a field goal to go up 10-7.
Then OSU's turnover nightmares started. Running back Joseph Randle fumbled for the first of five OSU turnovers, setting up a K-State touchdown for a 17-7 deficit and the exact type of situation the Pokes had hoped to avoid against a grind-it-out, clock-managing team like KSU.
It wasn't that the Cowboys didn't string together drives or appear poised to make a run at the ‘Cats, it's how those offensive possessions ended that sent the Pokes reeling to their third loss of the season.
Two of Lunt's interceptions came on potential scoring drives that went belly up, his other was a pick-six that turned would could have been a drive to tie the game into a 31-17 deficit two minutes before halftime.
Lunt left the game with an injury in the third quarter after throwing his third interception, forcing the Cowboy coaching staff to turn to Clint Chelf.
But the turnovers weren't the only sore spot for the Pokes on the night. OSU has been shaky in its kick return coverage the past few seasons and that came back to haunt the Cowboys again.
After a Quinn Sharp field goal to cut the Wildcats' lead to 17-10, KSU return specialist Tyler Lockett gashed the Cowboys' special teams for a 100-yard touchdown return. To the Cowboys' credit, OSU answered immediately with an 81-yard touchdown return by reserve running back Desmond Roland to cut it to 24-17 but K-State had numerous lengthy returns to set itself up in good field position. That field position limited the effectiveness of a Cowboy defense that played an otherwise stout contest against the vaunted Wildcat offense.
Chelf was a bright spot for the Cowboys on the night, completing 16-of-27 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown after being thrust into a difficult situation in a raucous environment. Chelf directed two drives resulting in Sharp field goals and another ending with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Moore.
Another bright spot for the Cowboys was the performance of the defense. Heisman frontrunner Collin Klein left in the third quarter with an undisclosed hand/wrist injury but he didn't have the same effect against the Cowboys that he has had on other defenses in the Big 12 this season.
Klein finished with 245 passing yards and 64 rushing yards with one total touchdown, tying for his fewest scores in a game this season. It was also a far cry from the 375-yard, four-touchdown performance he had in Stillwater last season.
If you deduct the interception and kick returns, K-State's offense only scored 30 points and that number drops even further if points-off-turnovers are taken into consideration.
Following the contest, OSU coach Mike Gundy refused to shed light on the injury Lunt suffered in the third quarter but he didn't shy away from expressing his disappointment in his team's execution in the Cowboys' first loss against K-State since 2006.
"I'm really disappointed in myself, in our coaches, in the way we played," Gundy said. "You travel on the road, and you play a good football team, and you turn the ball over, you're poor on special teams and you don't tackle well, you essentially don't give yourself a chance to win."
The Cowboys will have their chance to get back in the win column next Saturday when the Cowboys (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) host No. 21 West Virginia (5-3, 2-3) in Stillwater. The Mountaineers suffered their third straight loss on Saturday, falling to TCU 39-38 in double overtime.