It was appropriate that Adrian Martinez took a bow following his final touchdown.
The Kansas State quarterback put on a show while he led the Wildcats to a thrilling 41-34 victory over the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday in front of 84,376 at Memorial Stadium.
Not only did Martinez throw for a season-high 234 yards and a touchdown; not only did he rush for a season-high 148 yards and four touchdowns; he did something he has never been known for throughout his college career. He made one clutch play after the next and helped his team pull off a huge upset that few saw coming.
This was the type of result he left Nebraska for. This was the type of moment he transferred to K-State to experience.
“Beating a team like this and being on a team like this is a special feeling, one I’ve never had in my career,” Martinez said afterwards. “So I’m just really trying to be thankful for it all and thankful that the guys believe in me to get it done.”
If anyone deserved to celebrate at that moment, it was Martinez.
“It’s one of those things where it felt like he was written off too early,” K-State running back Deuce Vaughn said. “For him to come out here and play like that and then score that touchdown. That put a bow on the type of game that he had today.”
Martinez certainly changed the narrative about his recent quarterback play with one masterpiece of a game. At this time last week, K-State fans were howling for him to be benched following a stunning home loss to Tulane in which he led the Wildcats to 10 measly points.
In his first three games at K-State, Martinez didn’t look like himself. He didn’t run aggressively. Nor did he throw the ball downfield. Outside of handing the ball to Vaughn and tossing short passes to his receivers, he didn’t do much of anything. He was averaging below five yards per attempt. Calling him a “game manager” was about the nicest thing you could say.
But K-State coach Chris Klieman never lost faith in him. Neither did his teammates. They told him to “cut it loose” and not to worry about making mistakes and to play with a more aggressive mindset against the Sooners. If he did, they were all confident positive results would follow.
Somewhere along that way, that energized him.
“They instilled a lot of faith in me and a lot of confidence,” Martinez said. “I felt like I left some heart out on the table last Saturday and it hurt. I feel like I didn’t do my teammates justice. I wanted to make sure I came out here tonight and they knew that I gave everything I had, that I left my heart out there. I feel confident I did that.”
Martinez certainly rewarded the Wildcats for their trust.
“You know, that Martinez kid is a pretty good player,” Klieman said. “I told him last week that I believed in him even after the loss. I said, ‘I believe in you and everybody in this place believes in you.’ I met him again on Sunday and told him how much I loved him, how much I believed in him. I told him to just go out there and play and have fun and rip it … And he did.”
Indeed, Martinez looked like a new quarterback while playing in front of a national TV audience.
After three straight underwhelming games, Martinez delivered a performance that fans will be talking about for quite some time.
So many people were discussing Martinez on social media immediately following the game that he was trending nationally on Twitter.
This was the player everyone wanted to see when he looked for a new start after putting up nearly 11,000 yards in total offense at Nebraska. Every time K-State needed him to make a big play, he came up with one.
He didn’t waste any time “cutting it loose,” to borrow a phrase from Klieman. Martinez led the Wildcats to touchdowns on each of their first two drives with a mixture of precise passes and hard runs. He threw the ball downfield, he fought for extra yards. He refused to be denied on four different touchdown runs.
He was a warrior.
“He’s my quarterback,” Vaughn said, “and he showed everyone exactly why he’s my quarterback.”
His biggest play of all came late in the fourth quarter with K-State protecting a 34-27 lead. The Wildcats faced a third-and-long at their own 41-yard line. They needed 16 yards to pick up a first down and keep the ball away from Oklahoma. Otherwise the Sooners were going to have a shot at tying the game.
Punting in that situation could have easily led to a loss. But Martinez made sure that didn’t happen when he scrambled for 55 yards to essentially clinch the game. The Wildcats called for a long pass with four receivers running vertical routes beyond the first-down marker. But the Sooners dedicated so many defenders to covering them and rushing the passer that Martinez decided to make something happen with his legs, so he sprinted up the middle of the field for a colossal gain.
“We were throwing four verticals, hoping that we could throw a seam route, because they played a soft zone,” Klieman said. “And then they covered the seams. Adrian made one guy miss, and I saw him turn on to another gear. That was fun to see.”
Martinez fittingly put the game out of reach by running into the end zone, and then taking his bow, a few moments later.
Any talk of K-State pivoting to Will Howard or Jake Rubley at quarterback can end. In hindsight, that idea now seems outrageous.
Martinez is the Wildcats’ starting quarterback, and he has now proven that he can lead them to big things.
“He was a playmaker,” Vaughn said. “He was a general. Every time I looked over to him there was a sense of calmness. He understood that we were going to leave it all on the football field and lead this offense. He’s playing his (guts out) right now. So we were behind him the entire game. To see him put on a performance like that after what everybody was saying about him. Oh man, I played my heart out for him today.”
This story was originally published September 25, 2022 1:04 AM.