Oklahoma State raced down field in the opening minutes against No. 11 Kansas State, slicing up one of the nation's best defenses and one that shut out Texas last week.
Then, everything unraveled in the time it took Morgan Burns to run 86 yards.
The Wildcats' speedy cornerback returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, and the Cowboys never recovered in a 48-14 rout Saturday night — their third straight loss.
"We worked our butt off the first five minutes to get a 7-0 lead on the road and quiet the stadium. We turn around and in 10 seconds we give up a return for a touchdown," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy, who was in his first season in 2005 when they last lost three in a row.
"That's the way it has gone for us this year," Gundy said.
Oklahoma State (5-4, 3-3) never threatened on offense again after its first possession of the game. The Cowboys managed only a pick-six by Ramon Richards in the fourth quarter.
"You think you have the momentum and they get it right back at their home stadium," Oklahoma State wide receiver David Glidden said. "Those are the kind of things that after you silence the crowd, it brings them back in the very next play. It hurts a little bit."
Tyreek Hill had 102 yards rushing and a touchdown in place of leading rusher Desmond Roland, who missed the trip following a death in his family. Daxx Garman threw for 148 yards and was picked off twice, one of them when the Cowboys were deep in Kansas State territory.
Oklahoma State had only 48 yards of offense in the second half.
"We had our chances," Glidden said, "and we didn't capitalize."
Jake Waters threw two touchdown passes, and Charles Jones ran for a pair of scores for the Wildcats (7-1, 5-0, No. 9 CFP), who remain the lone unbeaten team in the Big 12 heading into next week's showdown at 10th-ranked TCU. Curry Sexton had nine catches for 159 yards and a touchdown, and Tyler Lockett had six receptions for 94 yards and a score.
The Wildcats have won five straight since a narrow loss to fourth-ranked Auburn, but the schedule is about to get a lot tougher. After visiting the Horned Frogs, Kansas State must also visit No. 20 West Virginia, with a game at No. 12 Baylor looming at the end of the season.
"I know it's going to be a heck of a matchup, a tough place to play," Sexton said. "We're happy with where we're at, we're happy with how we're playing, but we're not satisfied."
In other words, the road to college football's inaugural playoff is a bumpy one.
After the Cowboys and Wildcats traded touchdowns in the opening minutes of the game, Kansas State put things away with 38 unanswered points spanning halftime.
Jones started the onslaught with his first touchdown run, and Waters connected with Sexton for a 17-yard score early in the second quarter. Waters then hit Lockett from 20 yards out in the third quarter, giving Kansas State a 28-7 advantage.
On that drive, Lockett passed current Packers star Jordy Nelson for second in school history in yards receiving, and tied Quincy Morgan in career touchdown catches. Lockett has 2,877 yards and 23 TD grabs, trailing only father Kevin Lockett (3,032 yards, 26 TDs) in both categories.
"It means a lot," Lockett said, "but I'm just going to keep playing."
The game truly got out of hand when the Cowboys fumbled on their next possession, and Kansas State needed three plays to go 37 yards for a score. Backup quarterback Joe Hubener added a sneak with 9 1/2 minutes to go make it 45-7, and Matt McCrane's career-long 53-yard field goal in the final minutes gave the few fans left one last reason to cheer.
Now, the attention turns to the Horned Frogs and a pivotal game in the Big 12 race — not to mention the race for one of the four spots in the playoffs.
"I thought we showed signs of clicking on all cylinders," said Waters, who hasn't committed a turnover in his last five games, "but we still have work to do."