Wildcat football shows up for all-around performance against KU

Kansas State freshman running back Deuce Vaughn runs for a touchdown against Kansas at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Emily Starkey)

The Kansas State Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 55-14 with help from all phases, including a record day for sophomore wide receiver and punt returner Phillip Brooks. The sophomore added to the lineage of “Special Teams U” with 189 return yards and two touchdowns, which were both single-game records for the Wildcats.

“We take pride in special teams; this is Special Teams U, so with the history of great returners, I feel like I need to contribute to that to the best of my ability,” Brooks said.

Brooks has three career punt returns touchdowns, which is tied for second in school history.

The win over the Jayhawks marked the 12th straight win for K-State in the Sunflower Showdown, which is the longest winning streak against any opponent since defeating Missouri 13 times from 1993-2005.

“To be able to dominate the football game like we did, I’m really pleased,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “I thought that special teams were the highlight of the day. We’re really good on special teams, and we knew we needed to be good today … We were good in all phases.”

True freshman quarterback Will Howard became the first freshman quarterback to defeat the Jayhawks. Howard went 17-24 for 243 yards and two touchdowns in only three quarters and got a large amount of help from the other two phases of the game.

The offense had its fair share of struggles in the first half. Two false start penalties killed the promising opening drive that brought the Wildcats to the KU 23-yard line on a 36-yard reception by freshman running back Deuce Vaughn.

K-State opened the scoring on a 55-yard punt return by Brooks. K-State would have had the football at the KU 30-yard line, but a penalty replayed the down.

The Jayhawks responded with an impressive 13 play, seven-minute drive that ended at the 22-yard line but missed a 40-yard attempt.

K-State started with the ball at the KU 19-yard line due to a 40-yard return by Brooks. The Wildcats were forced to settle for a 32-yard field goal by senior kicker Blake Lynch to take a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.

The Wildcats added three on the following drive with a 21-yard field goal by Lynch.

The defense joined the scoring party with an easy pick-six by junior defensive back Justin Gardner on a pass from freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels. The pick-six extend the lead to 20-0 with 5:26 remaining in the second quarter.

“I just saw the two linemen coming out late, and the running back peeking out behind him, and I knew something tricky was coming,” Gardner said. “I just triggered and shot it, and I ended up getting the pick.”

The Jayhawks rallied with a quick 9 play 75-yard drive capped off by a touchdown run by Daniels to put some pressure on the struggling K-State offense.

K-State was forced to punt with 1:31 remaining in the half, but got a second life after a muffed punt, which put the Wildcats at the KU 41-yard line. The offense finally capitalized on the short field highlighted by a 16-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Sammy Wheeler to give the Wildcats a 27-7 lead.

K-State forced the Jayhawks to punt with eight seconds remaining on the clock, which proved to be costly. Brooks returned his second punt of the game with eight seconds remaining to take a 34-7 lead into the half. The return capped off a 27-point quarter, the highest this season.

“I told Phillip there were seven seconds left, can’t get tackled, you’ve got to score, and we did a great job of holding people up at the line and getting blocks downfield and made one guy miss,” Klieman said. “That was a huge momentum boost going into halftime.”

The Wildcats finished the half with 150 yards of total offense, which was slightly more than the Jayhawks at 147 yards. KU led in a total time of possession at the half, but special teams and defense headlined the first half for the Wildcats.

The offense responded in the second half with a 21-point third quarter to put the game far out of reach.

“I was really pleased with the way the offense responded in the third quarter,” Klieman said. “We had at least two or three big drives where we were able to throw the ball and run the ball and get some confidence and rhythm going offensively.”

Vaughn put K-State up 41-7 with a one-yard run on the opening drive of the second half. K-State opened the first half with a touchdown drive that ended with a 1-yard rush by Vaughn. Junior wide receiver Chabastin Taylor put the Wildcats at the one-yard line on a 37-yard reception from Howard.

The Wildcat offense continued to roll, extending the lead to 48-7 on another one-yard rush by senior running back Harry Trotter. Senior tight end Briley Moore finished off an 11 play, 94-yard drive to take a 55-7 lead at the end of the third quarter.

The mentality of the offense shifted following a disappointing first half.

“We came out in the second half, we came out saying ‘It’s go time,’ we switch our mindset,” Howard said. “We knew that we were up big, and KU might not be the toughest opponent, but we said to ourselves that we have to play like we play and not down to our competition, and we did that.”

The Jayhawks scored a consolation touchdown in the fourth quarter with a 4-yard run by Daniels following a fumble at the K-State 15 yard line to put the eventual final score at 55-14.

The Wildcats finished with 381 yards of total offense with 252 yards coming in the air. Vaughn led the charge on the ground with 71 yards and a touchdown. The Jayhawks totaled 320 yards on the afternoon. Senior wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter led KU with 58 receiving yards.

K-State will face West Virginia, a difficult team for the Wildcats. The Mountaineers have won the last four meetings, including a 24-20 win in Manhattan last season. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 31 on ESPN or ESPN2.