SE: Starks Stands Out for K-State Defense in Bowl-Clinching Win at Baylor

Donnie Starks was taken back in time by his performance in K-State’s 42-21 win at Baylor on Saturday. Not only did the Wildcats’ senior nickel back play in his home state with nearly 30 family members in attendance, he also accomplished something he last did in high school. 

In Waco, Texas, about three hours from his hometown of Crosby, Starks snagged his first two career interceptions at K-State. Both of them came in the second half, when K-State outscored Baylor, 35-7, to secure its first win in Waco since 2002 and its first win against the Bears since 2011 in Manhattan. 

It also marked the Wildcats’ sixth win of the season to make them bowl eligible for the seventh-straight season and 18th overall under head coach Bill Snyder, now with 199 career victories at K-State. 

“It’s a great feeling,” Starks, a second-year starter, said in a postgame radio interview. “I had 29 of my family members come show me support and just to have the big game that I did, that was awesome.”

Starks, the first Wildcat with multiple interceptions in a game since Elijah Lee picked off two passes against TCU last season, thought he might score on both of his picks. While he failed to take either to the house, both of them kept K-State in control of the game. 

On his first interception, Starks stepped in front of a mid-range pass and took off for 15 yards to the Baylor 21. 

“The first pick kind of just fell in my hands,” said Starks, whose interception set up K-State’s third unanswered touchdown of the third quarter to go up 28-14. “It was a big game for sure.”

In response, Baylor marched the field into K-State territory before testing Starks again. 

Like the series before it, Starks reeled in a pass attempt from Baylor freshman Zach Smith. This time, Starks grabbed it in the end zone and bought some time running laterally while surveying the field in front of him. Overcome with a sense of déjà vu from high school, he burst out of the end zone attempting to score before being taken down at K-State’s 10-yard line. 

“It’s funny because it played out the exact same way in high school (to start). I ran in the end zone for a little bit, but once I saw the opening in high school, I took it and actually scored, 108 yards. I was thinking the same thing was going to happen, so I went for it again,” said Starks, who added that he was told by coaches afterwards to fall in the end zone next time. “But they were proud of me.” 

Senior safety Dante Barnett recorded an interception, his first of the season and eighth of his career, in the fourth quarter. It set up K-State’s final touchdown, gave his team a plus-two advantage in the turnover-margin battle and capped a drastically improved defensive performance for the Wildcats. 

“They showed a great deal of determination, and they showed some fight, and they showed some toughness, and you can go through a list of things,” Snyder said of his team, which was coming off a bye week and will host Kansas next Saturday at 11 a.m., for Senior Day and the Dillons Sunflower Showdown. “But nothing that they haven't shown in the past. This isn't just a new football team, that's not the case. It's just guys committing themselves to trying to get better and playing to be better every single day. I think that they have invested the time and the effort to do so and, consequently, you see step by step that they are getting better.”

Baylor averaged 38 points and 537.5 yards per game entering Saturday’s battle. K-State, which had allowed more than 1,100 yards in its previous two games, limited Baylor to season-low totals in total offense (368 yards, 47 less than previous low) and rushing yards (110, 23 less). 

“Everybody was in the zone. Everybody was hyped and talking to each other,” Starks, who had six tackles against Baylor, said of the defensive effort. “We all were just one and we all ran to the ball very well, so it was great. The vibe was awesome.”

Snyder agreed, specifically pointing out his defense’s ability to limit Baylor’s big-yardage plays. 

Before Saturday, the Bears had recorded 36 offensive plays that went for 25 yards or more, an average of four per game. Against K-State, Baylor’s longest play was a 25-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

“We had played reasonably well against the run and we needed to continue to do that, but we just needed to stop giving up big plays,” said Snyder, who will look to pick up his 200th career win on Saturday in the Wildcats’ home finale. “That’s been our nemesis all along. If you take away the big plays, then it’s more difficult to get the ball in the end zone. We did a little bit better job of that.”