ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Avery Johnson threw for two touchdowns and ran for one, DJ Giddens rushed for 151 yards and scored twice, and Kansas State beat No. 19 North Carolina State 28-19 in the Pop-Tarts Bowl on Thursday night.

Johnson, a freshman making his first start after Will Howard entered the transfer portal, threw for 178 yards, rushed for 71 and directed a 15-play, 72-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that put the game away and closed out a solid season for coach Chris Klieman's Wildcats (9-4).

“We knew we needed to finish the drive strong and put the game away,” Johnson said. “Credit to those guys up front. Fifteen plays isn’t easy. They dominated and we ultimately got into the end zone.”

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown and threw for 164 yards in his final game for the Wolfpack (9-4), who fell short of winning 10 games for the second time in program history.

“I look back to what could I have done differently because we didn’t get the job done,” Armstrong said. “I felt like I did what I had to do to be ready and prepared. We just didn’t get the job done.”

Giddens had a 37-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, his only catch of the game, and ran for a 4-yard TD early in the second that made it 14-0.

Kansas State led 21-7 late in the second quarter and 21-10 at halftime, but N.C. State rallied in the third quarter, thanks in part to some trickery. Trent Pennix ran for a 60-yard touchdown on a fake punt with 1:50 left in the period. But the 2-point try failed, allowing the Wildcats to maintain a 21-19 lead.

Johnson and Giddens took over from there. Giddens had six rushes for 25 yards on a drive that took 7:24 off the clock and concluded with Johnson's 11-yard touchdown pass to Jayce Brown with 2:48 remaining.

“Some of those times a young player may force a throw when he is scrambling and he doesn’t see anybody open,” Klieman said. “He threw the ball away and avoided a number of sacks for a loss of yards. He’s 1-0 as a quarterback. He made big-time play after big-time play.”

Jacob Parrish intercepted Armstrong on N.C. State's next play from scrimmage.


Both teams ran successful fake punts.

Kansas State punter Jack Blumer called his own number in the second quarter for a 30-yard gain that set up Giddens' rushing TD.

N.C. State had its biggest play on a direct snap to Pennix, a tight end, from the punt formation that he took all the way to the end zone.


Armstrong became N.C. State's first 100-yard rusher of the season. He had come close on a few occasions, with 96 yards against both Connecticut and Wake Forest.

Giddens had his fifth game this season with 100 yards rushing or more. This was his second-highest rushing total behind a 207-yard effort against UCF.


N.C. State’s lone 10-win season came in 2002, when it went 11-2 with Phillip Rivers at quarterback.


One gimmick of the Pop-Tarts Bowl was a mascot that organizers described as edible. After Kansas State was awarded the trophy, the human mascot named “Strawberry” was lowered into a giant replica toaster, and an edible look-alike was ushered out. Klieman and Johnson took bites of the oversized treat before other Wildcats players crowded around for a snack.


N.C. State will have to replace Armstrong, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Virginia for his final season, and graduating Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year Payton Wilson.

Kansas State can look forward to having both Johnson and Giddens back in 2024.


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