Freshman quarterback Will Howard fired a short pass to sophomore tight end Sammy Wheeler, who tucked it into his arms before angling toward the goal line. The touchdown strike came with just over a minute left in the first half of Kansas State’s 55-14 rout of Kansas.
“We couldn’t get down on ourselves because we had such a lead, but at the same time we knew we weren’t playing to our full potential,” Howard said. “We can’t be putting ourselves in situations like [3rd and long due to penalties]. We fixed it in the second half.”
And fix it they did.
That connection started a stretch of 11-straight completions for Howard when the offense that had struggled for two weeks finally woke up. Howard capped the hot-streak with an arcing 13-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Briley Moore.
“In the second half I started to really feel like I was fitting in and the offense started really flowing for me,” Howard said.
A first half where the offense struggled to move the ball and the Wildcats relied on special teams and defensive touchdowns gave way to an electric third quarter.
“I don’t think we played very well in the first half offensively — we couldn’t get into a rhythm,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “We just needed to settle down and play the game. I was really pleased with the way the offense responded in the third quarter.”
K-State scored every time it got the ball between receiving a punt with just over two minutes in the first half and the fourth quarter. The Wildcats put in four straight touchdowns and a punt return touchdown by sophomore wide receiver Phillip Brooks.
“Great blocking,” Brooks said. “Hat on hat…. The punt return team gave me the confidence to execute that.”
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That return by Brooks came on the last play of the second quarter and was his second touchdown return of the day. He also set a K-State punt return yardage record with 189 yards.
“[The Big 12 is] much more competitive offensively and defensively [than at North Dakota State] and you may not have an advantage on those things, so you better find a way to have an advantage on a week-in-week-out basis,” Klieman said. “It has to be the edge.”
The Wildcat offense looked good in the third quarter, but defense and special teams gave them a 34-7 lead at halftime when the Wildcat offense could only muster 6 points.
“Every quarterback loves a great defense and loves great special teams,” Klieman said. “We need to continue to play complimentary football.”
The Wildcat defense held KU to just 4.1 yards per play and 14 points, seven of which came on a short field after a fumble in the fourth quarter.
“We just played fast and physical, something that we harp on all week,” junior corner back Justin Gardner said. “Even if we don’t know anything, just playing fast and running through players.”
Gardner read a late second quarter-screen to the running back. He made a break on the ball, jumped the route and ran the interception back 24 yards for a touchdown.
“I saw the two linemen coming out late,” Gardner said. “I saw the running back peeking out behind them. As soon as I saw that, I knew something tricky was coming so I just triggered and shot it and then ended up getting a pick.”
The Wildcat dominance in all three phases of the game gave them the program’s 12th-straight win over Kansas. That marks the longest win streak of any team in the 110-year series, taking the spot for the Wildcats’ run of 11 games from 1993-2003.
“I want to continue [the tradition of winning the Sunflower Showdown] for all the people who have put the purple on,” Klieman said. “That’s something that our guys really want to continue to carry on the tradition of excellence, the tradition that Kansas State football is the program in the state.”