MANHATTAN — Perhaps Kansas State coach Chris Klieman summed it up best.
After a preseason under the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic where there was no guarantee there would even be a season, his Wildcats finally got to take the field Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. So even after they gave up a touchdown with 38 seconds left for a stunning 35-31 loss to Arkansas State, there were no regrets.
"I'm disappointed in our play, not disappointed in the fact that we did play," Klieman said.
The Wildcats now have two weeks to regroup before they travel to Norman, Oklahoma, on Sept. 26 to face No. 5-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 opener.
"It wasn't the outcome that we wanted and we didn't play particularly well," Klieman said. "I know what the guys have gone through the last month to five weeks, trying to prepare to play, and we can't make excuses. The guys that played, we're counting on to play and have success, and make plays when they have the opportunities.
"And I said to the guys in the locker room, this is the kind of adversity we're going to face all year, not knowing who's going to be in, who's going to be out. But that's reality. That's the hand we're dealt, and you have to be prepared to tee it up and play."
Though there was a recent COVID-19 outbreak within the team, most of K-State's projected starters were available against Arkansas State, which was playing its second game after falling to Memphis last week. But the Wildcats lost starting center Noah Johnson to injury in the first quarter, and Ben Adler, who moved over one spot from left guard to take his place also went down.
Then on Arkansas State's winning drive, strong safety Wayne Jones had to be immobilized and carted off the field. That after free safety Jahron McPherson left the game earlier.
Klieman said in his postgame press conference that Jones was moving his extremities, and early Saturday evening Jones reported on his Twitter account: "You can't tell me God is not real. I had a great doctor's report and walked out of the hospital with a concussion and some other minor things. I thank everybody for all their prayers. I'm at home now and relaxing."
Despite personnel issues, it ultimately was the Wildcats' inability to contain Arkansas State's prolific passing game that did them in.
K-State had come back from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to take a 31-28 lead on Blake Lynch's 35-yard field goal with 2:30 left, only to watch the Red Wolves march 65 yards down the field to steal the victory.
Backup quarterback Layne Hatcher, who shared time with starter Logan Bonner, hit Jonathan Adams for a 7-yard score to cap the seven-play drive. It was Adams' third touchdown catch of the game.
"It was really tough," said K-State senior linebacker Justin Hughes, who played for the first time since hurting his knee during the spring of 2019 and missing all of last season. "We started off pretty good as a defense but just got lackadaisical in areas.
"We've just got to continue to fight the entire game."
K-State also was out of sync offensively, in part because quarterback Skylar Thompson took an early hit that limited him in the running game. Thompson did complete 17 of 29 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns, but was a hair off on several deep balls.
"There's three or four I can think of," Thompson said. "Just inches off, where I missed a throw or misjudged on a ball and just couldn't get on the same page there a couple of times.
"But all things considering, I thought we made some good plays, but we just didn't make enough today. That's part of it, (and) we've just got to learn from it and move on."
One bright spot for K-State was the debut of true freshman running back Deuce Vaughn, who rushed for 47 yards on 12 carries and caught a pass for 24 yards. Tight end Briley Moore, a graduate transfer from Northern Iowa, led the Wildcats with six catches for 54 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown catch in the first half.
Bonner completed 17 of 28 passes for 204 yards and Hatcher was 6 for 8 for 61 yards for Arkansas State, while Jamal Jones rushed for 95 yards and Adams caught eight passes for 98.
Thompson, a third-year starter at quarterback and a senior team captain for K-State, was defiant after the game and vowed that the Wildcats would get back on track.
"My message was that this is just a moment in life, and there's good moments in life, there's bad moments in life," he said. "Either way, they're both going to pass by. The good ones you try to cherish and hold on to, the bad ones are the ones you just let go and learn from.
"It's easy to be great, happy and smiling all the time when everything's going great. But a true man gets revealed when things get rocky and things get tested. That's when your true character shows."
The loss, Thompson said, only made him more determined.
"It fires me up. I hate losing, man, and I know people on this team hate to lose," he said. "It makes me mad and I'd go buckle it up and play it again right now.
"I just love this game. I love to go compete, and I truly walked off the field today and gave it all I got. I missed some throws, I missed some reads, I made some mistakes, but I walked off that field with my head held high because I know that there's not one bit of effort I left out on that field today."