For the Kansas Jayhawks, the scene at halftime Saturday had to feel maddeningly familiar.
It's been a rough conference stretch for Head Coach Turner Gill's squad this season. Three straight blowout losses – at the hands of Baylor, Kansas State and Texas A&M respectively – led the Jayhawks to last week in Ames, Iowa, where for the first time in a month they showed signs of life.
They competed and fought until the final second ticked off the clock. And though they lost to the Iowa State Cyclones 28-16, something akin to hope kindled within the hearts of Jayhawk Nation. Maybe that was the turning point of the Turner Gill Era. Maybe things were about to get better.
And yet there they were Saturday afternoon, huddled inside the Anderson Family Football Complex, down to the Colorado Buffaloes – the only other Big 12 team without a conference victory – by a staggering score of 35-10.
Yes, this scene certainly was familiar.
"You all need to come out here," Gill said, addressing his team. "And get ready for the biggest comeback ever."
Who would have guessed the first-year Kansas would prove to be a prophet just an hour and a half later?
On the strength of the 35-point scoring explosion in the fourth quarter, the Jayhawks fought back from a 45-17 deficit to stun the Buffaloes 52-45, in what was, in fact, the largest comeback in Kansas football history.
"I'm so proud of these players," said Gill, who opened his post-game comments by thanking God. "They showed a lot of character. It means a lot for our football program. I think it also means a lot for our home and our fans and all of the people who came out. I'm proud and it means a lot."
The comeback got rolling at the 14:47 mark of the fourth quarter. Colorado running back Rodney Stewart – who had an incredible day, rushing for 175 yards and three touchdowns – punched in a score from eight yards out on the first play of the quarter, pushing the lead to 45-17.
A short kickoff gave the Jayhawks possession at their own 34, and the Kansas offense got to work, utilizing a mixture of quick-strike passes and runs, capped by James Sims' 13-yard touchdown run with 11:05 remaining.
Sims was a key cog in the Kansas comeback, rushing for four scores on the day, including three in the fourth quarter alone.
The Jayhawks surprised the Buffaloes on the ensuing kickoff, opting to go for the onside kick – which they recovered on their own 41-yard line. Four plays later, Mecham found senior wide receiver Johnathan Wilson on the near sideline for a 38-yard touchdown.
The decision to on-side in that situation wasn't a foregone conclusion, Gill said, but it was t turning point.
"We were 21 points behind at that time and once we got that, that gave us some momentum and I really, really thought we'd have a great chance to win if we got that opportunity," he explained. "And when we did, everything took care of itself."
The snowball had started rolling downhill toward Colorado, and was quickly becoming an avalanche. A Kansas defense that had been so porous for three straight quarters suddenly stiffened up, and found a way to make big plays of its own.
On the next Colorado possession, sophomore running back-turned-linebacker-turned-defensive end Toben Opurum crushed Buffaloes receiver Toney Clemons on an end-around, popping the ball free. Nickel back Tyler Patmon scooped up the loose ball and sprinted 28 yards to paydirt, closing the lead to a mere seven points.
And Patmon wasn't done making big plays, either. On the next drive, the redshirt freshman defensive back intercepted an errant Cody Hawkins pass on the second play from scrimmage, giving Kansas the ball deep in Colorado territory.
From there, Sims took over. Mecham completed a pass to junior wideout Daymond Patterson – who made a spectacular one-handed grab – for 22 yards on the first play, but Sims followed it with four straight runs, finally pounding it in from six yards out with 4:30 left in the game to bring the Jayhawks even on the scoreboard.
Smelling blood in the water, the Jayhawks defense didn't let up, forcing Colorado into an immediate third-and-long. On the play, senior defensive end Jake Laptad came screaming around the left end to deliver a vicious blow to Hawkins, knocking the ball free again. Though the Buffaloes recovered they were forced to punt – and Kansas had long since captured all of the game's momentum.
On second and nine from the Kansas 38, Mecham hit Sims for a 19 yard screen pass, then another quick strike to Patterson for six. Sims then burst through the line for 10, before bouncing the ensuing play outside and sprinting 28 yards to the endzone to give Kansas the go-ahead score.
"We've worked on that play three or four times at the end of every practice," Sims said. "Coach (Reggie Mitchell) just said to hit he A-gap and the hole will be there. I just listened to what he told me and it was there."
With less than a minute remaining the Buffalos threatened briefly, completing two big pass plays and aided by a pass interference call, but when his pass to the endzone intended for receiver Paul Richardson fell incomplete, the Jayhawks had their victory.
"This is a great win for our program and a great win for our players," Gill said. "I'm just so proud of them – they came to play. This is a great group of guys to be around and we're going to continue on in this direction next week."
The Jayhawks travel to Lincoln, Neb. next week to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers, in Gill's first – and only – conference meeting with his alma mater.