Heading into this year’s Sunflower Showdown, Kansas State and Kansas were tied for last place in the Big 12. Both teams were 3-6 overall and just 1-4 against conference foes.
Last Sunday, it was announced that KU head coach David Beaty would not be retained at the season’s end. For K-State, mixed emotions have been swirling surrounding the team’s success and the future of Hall of Fame head coach Bill Snyder.
Along with year-long bragging rights for the state of Kansas, bowl eligibility was on the line. With three games to go for each, the team that lost would be unable to get that sixth win needed to be automatically considered for a bowl game.
For a few hours on Saturday, those questions would be laid to rest, as the Wildcats and Jayhawks strapped up their shoulder pads and helmets and played ball.
Both teams struggled on their opening offensive drives and the whole first quarter was uneventful.
KU started with the ball and punted after three plays. Things were even worse when the punt hung in the air due to the wind, and went for only 27 yards. K-State took over with good field position, starting at its own 48-yard line. The Wildcats were unable to take advantage and missed a 53-yard field goal.
Twice more would both teams punt the ball away in the opening period. The Wildcats had 46 yards of offense in the first quarter, while the Jayhawks only had 31 yards.
An 18 play, 94-yard KU drive that began with 18 seconds left in the first quarter resulted in a Jayhawk field goal. They were given a second chance at a touchdown when K-State roughed the kicker on a 35-yard field goal attempt, but the Wildcat defense bounced back and held strong.
Gabriel Rui connected from 21 yards out to put KU on the board first, making the score 3-0 with 5:38 remaining before halftime.
K-State had just one offensive drive in the second quarter, and it resulted in another punt.
The Jayhawks began the following drive with a 26-yard pass from quarterback Peyton Bender to wide receiver Steven Sims. The pass very easily could have been a touchdown had Bender not led his receiver into the sideline.
A few plays later, KU missed another chance for a touchdown, as wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter dropped a pass with a step on his defender just outside of the end zone.
After a false start, a loss of seven yards, a delay of game and poor clock management, the Jayhawks were unable to get any points before the half without any timeouts.
At halftime, KU led K-State 3-0. It also had an advantage in total yards (166-59), first downs (11-4) and time of possession (20:58-9:02). Bender went 11-of-16 for 82 yards in the first half, and Pooka Williams Jr. led the team with nine rushes for 52 yards, while Alex Barnes had 29 yards on seven rushes.
The third quarter was by far the most offensive quarter of the game, but second half started off heavily in the favor of the Jayhawks.
KU recovered a squib kick on the opening kickoff of the half, but K-State caught a break when it would later sack Bender on fourth down and take over at its own 36-yard line.
K-State capitalized, marching 64 yards in five plays and just over two minutes to finally put points on the board. Barnes ran in a 24-yard touchdown to put his team up 7-3 with 11:59 in the third quarter. Barnes accounted for 53 of the team’s 64 yards on the drive.
Barnes’ touchdown ignited a scoring fire, turning the game into a bit of a shootout for a short period of time.
The Jayhawks responded by using up 4:16 of the clock and scoring on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Bender to receiver Jeremiah Booker. The back-and-forth scoring would continue when Barnes punched the ball in from two-yards out. With 2:57 to go in the quarter, K-State was ahead 14-10.
KU was not done returning the favor yet. Just 14 seconds into the fourth quarter, Bender connected with Sims on a long pass. Sims reached out and grabbed the ball in stride and outran the defense 65 yards to the end zone.
The Jayhawks went back on top, going ahead 17-14 — a lead that they would hold until just under three minutes to go in the game.
Around the 3:30 mark of the fourth quarter, Barnes went airborne to convert a fourth-and-one. The run sparked a three-play series that was one of the best the Wildcat offense has seen in a while.
Quarterback Alex Delton connected with wide receiver Dalton Schoen on a 28-yard pass. Schoen was held by his defender, but got around him to make an impressive catch. Delton followed the connection up with a 21-yard run that finished in the end zone.
With 2:46 remaining in the game, K-State held a 21-17 lead over its rivals. The only thing left was for the defense to come up with a stop.
The defense did just that, but not without a little help from KU.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, K-State linebacker Justin Hughes wrangled up Williams for a four-yard loss. On third-and-five, Wildcat defensive back Lance Robinson broke up the pass to force a fourth down, but the Jayhawks would convert for a first.
A few plays later, something would happen that sealed the victory for the Wildcats.
Bender was trying to avoid pressure and lost the ball as he was attempting to throw. After the ball bounced around, K-State defensive end Bronson Massie recovered it.
Several Wildcats ran onto the field from the sideline in enthusiasm, warranting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It did not matter, as K-State was able to take a knee and run off the remaining 20 seconds on the clock.
Although it was not always pretty, and did not always appear to be well in control, K-State defeated KU 21-17. The win marks K-State’s 10th consecutive Sunflower Showdown win.
After posting just 59 yards in the first half, K-State finished the game with 301 yards of offense. Barnes finished the game with 117 yards on 22 carries, along with two touchdowns. After a net of -13 rushing yards in the first half, Delton finished the game with 55 rushing yards. His 21-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter sealed the win.
Bender went 21-for-34 through the air, with 232 yards and two touchdowns. Sims amassed 113 yards on five receptions with one score. In total, KU finished with 347 yards.
The Wildcats move to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in Big 12 play, while remaining in the hunt for bowl eligibility with two games remaining. The Jayhawks fall to 3-7 and 1-5 on the season and cut short of the bowl-eligible six wins.