Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
For our fifth installment of the 100 day countdown to kickoff against North Dakota State University, the number 96 represents the number of yards Tyler Lockett returned a kickoff for a touchdown against North Texas in one of the most overlooked yet pivotal plays of last year. Don’t believe me? Read on.
K-State started the 2012 football season with a bang, beating up on Missouri State, and then Miami 52-13 in a game that was a romp by the end of the first quarter. With a #15 national ranking and demolition of one of the nation’s most storied programs under its belt, the team approached practice with swagger. Unfortunately, it was too much swagger – coaches complained of missed tackles, poor blocking, and general lack of focus due to the belief that the Wildcats needn’t worry about a directional school like North Texas. Coach Bill Snyder remarked,
"If you don’t prepare yourself well then most anything can happen. It was the attitude we took into the ballgame. There wasn’t anything else to blame it on."
So with four minutes left in the first quarter, an offense that had run roughshod over the Hurricanes was left with no points while North Texas had just completed an 11 play, 55 yard drive resulting in a 7-0 lead. At this point, K-State was being embarrassed in front of its home crowd. The team’s first possession was a three play, eight yard debacle. The second drive was worst – three-and-out for negative nine yards (the Wildcats finished with -1 net yard in the quarter).
So when Lockett step up the four yard line to field the ensuing kickoff of North Texas’s first touchdown, his team was in desperate need of a shot to the arm. And so the a consensus All-American return specialist took the kick, veered towards the left sideline as a seam opened, and rocketed upfield for his third career kickoff for a touchdown of his career.
If Lockett moves out of the way and lets the ball bounce into the end zone for a touchback, I like to think K-State still wins. But K-State was trading touchdowns, with two a piece in the third quarter before the Wildcats started to pull away. The Mean Green controlled the time of possession 37 minutes to 23, and forced two turnovers while only committing one. They also put on the most efficient passing demonstration against K-State all year, completing 25 of 28 passes for 208 yards. North Texas barely outgained K-State in rushing yards as well in one of its toughest performances of the year.
If K-State loses that game, the entire season falls apart. A loss to Baylor can get you into the Fiesta Bowl, not a loss to a Conference USA squad. And with a loss there, does K-State come into its next game against Oklahoma with the proper mindset for what at the time was an upset? That kickoff return was the spark to a comeback victory that set the tone for the rest of the season and a Big 12 Championship. And that’s the importance of the number 96.
To work backward in the countdown, visit 97 days, where we examine the team’s success rate when leading at halftime.