Jayhawks clip Huskies in thriller, 45-42

LAWRENCE, Kan. – A six yard touchdown pass from Jordan Webb to D.J. Beshears on fourth-and-goal with just nine seconds left in the game pushed the Kansas Jayhawks to a wild victory over the visiting Northern Illinois Huskies on Saturday night - a contest in which the two teams combined for almost 1,000 yards of total offense.

With 14 seconds left in the game, and the Kansas Jayhawks staring down both a 4th and Goal from the six yard line and a four-point deficit, Jordan Webb had one request for the five mammoth offensive linemen standing before him in the huddle.

"Just give me time," the sophomore quarterback said. "I'll make the read and score the touchdown."

Exactly five seconds later, he made good on his promise.

With the line picking up the blitz and giving him the extra second he needed, he found junior wide receiver D.J. Beshears open in the heart of the Northern Illinois defense and delivered a strike, giving Kansas the lead and, ultimately, a 45-42 victory.

"I was wide open, and I was just hoping that Jordan saw me and he did," Beshears said. "We connected and I scored. It felt great."

"That was a play we've probably run 100 times in practice," Webb added. "So I was pretty comfortable with it. I knew if I had to come down to D.J. he was going to make a play for me."

The touchdown put a cap on the scoring in what only the most understated of observers would describe as a mere "shootout." The Huskies and the Jayhawks combined for a staggering 996 yards of total offense, 59 first downs and 87 points.

After the two teams traded punts to open the game, Kansas got on the board first with an 11 play, 68-yard touchdown drive, culminating in the first Webb-to-Beshears scoring hookup of the night - a 15-yard completion on 3rd-and-goal.

Then Northern Illinois senior quarterback Chandler Harnish got to work. One of the most decorated player in the history of the Huskies program, the fifth-year senior led three straight scoring drives - doing damage with both his legs (two touchdowns) and arm.

His eight-yard scoring toss to receiver Martel Moore with 8:39 left in the second quarter put Northern Illinois on top 21-7, with all the momentum resting on their side.

At this point, it's fair to say the 2010 Kansas Jayhawks may have folded when placed in a similar situation. But as the coaching staff and players have been saying since the spring, this is a new team with a new attitude.

Following the Harnish touchdown pass, Webb engineered another long scoring drive - this one covering 12 plays and 74 yards. The finishing touches were administered by freshman running back Darrian Miller, who rushed for 34 yards on the drive including the 18-yard sprint to paydirt that cut the lead to 21-14.

The defense forced a turnover on downs after Harnish's pass attempt to Moore on 4th-and-6 fell incomplete, and with 2:25 left in the half it took just 1:35 for the Jayhawks to find the end zone yet again - this time on a 36-yard pass to a wide-open Kale Pick on 3rd-and-17 that knotted the score at 21.

Following the game, Kansas head coach Turner Gill spoke of his pride in the team's resolve.

"I'm proud of these guys," he said. "They didn't lose their composure at all. They kept believing. That's what we talk about as our mission statement, and I think they demonstrated that today."

In the second half, the two high-powered offenses continued to trade blows. Northern Illinois opened the scoring with a five play, 66-yard drive capped by Harnish's third rushing touchdown of the game - a 26-yard effort.

The Jayhawks responded with a seven play, 75 yard drive of their own, tying the game at 28 when sophomore running back James Sims - who rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns on the game - punched it in from eight yards out.

Back and forth they went, until an Alex Mueller 27-yard field goal gave Kansas a 38-35 lead with 7:30 left in the game. Harnish saddled up and led yet another prolonged scoring drive, this one lasting 11 plays and covering 85 yards, soaking up 3:55 of game clock in the process.

Huskies running back Jasmin Hopkins' touchdown plunge from one-yard out left the Jayhawks down 42-38 and decidedly behind the eight ball.

To hear Sims tell it, however, the Jayhawks weren't feeling the pressure.

"We do (two minute drills) every day because of stuff like this," he explained. "What happened today with the game on the line. We've been practicing two minutes, so we feel confident in each other that no matter what we can go out and execute, because we've been practicing all week on it. And it finally just clicked."

Rather than panic, with the offensive line gaining strength as the game wore on, Gill and offensive coordinator Chuck Long placed their faith in the run game; a faith that would prove extremely well-founded.

Beshears, sophomore Brandon Bourbon, Miller and Sims all carried the ball during the 11 play, 47-yard drive, and the offense executed time and again in do-or-die situations.

On 4-and-2 from the NIU seven-yard line, Sims lined up in the Jayhawk formation - the Kansas variant of the Wildcat - and powered ahead for just enough yardage to obtain the first down.

The formation effectively broadcasts to the defense what is coming, said senior center Jeremiah Hatch, which means in order to succeed one simply has to be better than the man across from him one more time.

"You've gotta buckle down, get lower than they are and have more willpower than they have," he said.

"You've just gotta get whatever it is, one or two yards," Sims added. "And knowing that my offensive line has my back, they told me no matter what they were going to get the block and that's what they did."

The first down allowed Kansas to milk the clock, draining precious seconds off of Northern Illinois' hopes for a last-ditch drive of their own, and Webb's clutch pass to Beshears put the victory on ice.

With the victory, the Jayhawks move to 2-0 on the season while the Huskies drop to 1-1.

Next up for Kansas? The Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech, who no doubt have revenge on the brain following last season's loss to the Jayhawks in Lawrence.

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