Kansas Football fans had seen this show before.
For the fourth week in a row, the Kansas Jayhawks played well enough to win.
For the fourth week in a row, the Kansas Jayhawks took a lead into the fourth quarter.
And for the fourth week in a row, the Kansas Jayhawks watched that lead evaporate – this time to Kansas State, a team KU hadn’t beaten since 1992.
But on this particular night, it was different in the most meaningful way: they found a way to make plays and get a win.
Riding a surprise fourth quarter appearance by much-hyped junior college transfer quarterback Jason Swanson, a terrific one-handed 31-yard touchdown catch by Mark Simmons, and a memorable 43-yard run by John Randle, the Jayhawks rallied from a 21-17 deficit to beat the Wildcats 31-28.
“Tonight we needed a spark, and tonight, Adam (KU starting quarterback Barmann) just wasn’t hitting a rhythm. Baseball guys talk about this a lot. Pitching coaches watch a pitcher out there, and he’s not in sync. (Barmann) needed a relief man and Jason answered the call.”
So when did the phone ring down the in KU bullpen?
“Coach came up to me right before halftime and told me to keep loose, warm up on the sideline after we came out, and always be ready,” Swanson recalled.
But it takes more than one player to overcome four weeks of letting the big one get away. For the first time this season, the Jayhawks figured out how to set the hook, net this fish, and get it in the boat.
After Kansas State gained the early fourth-quarter lead on an 86-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Meier – who also came on in relief for the ‘Cats – to Tony Madison, one couldn’t help but think, “Here we go again.”
Luckily for coach Mangino and the Kansas fans who’d seemingly seen this before, the team took a far different outlook.
“Did it enter my mind that the kids might react that way? Yeah,” admitted Mangino. “So the next thing I did, I put my hands together and ran up and down the sideline and screamed and hollered and did the best I could to keep them up.”
Linebacker Kevin Kane said the difference was that the Jayhawks made key plays and played from opening kickoff to the closing gun.
“It was great to see the offense step up when they had to,” said KU linebacker Kevin Kane. “And we’ve been a resilient group on defense, and we knew we needed to step it up big-time. The past three weeks, we’ve known what’s gone wrong. We just stuck in there all night and did what we had to do.”
Defensive lineman David McMillan – who kept with tradition by having another great individual game against KSU – sensed a little bit of same stuff, different day, but said, “Our football team showed a lot of mental toughness tonight by overcoming (the KSU touchdown) and going out there and doing what you’ve got to do to win a tough game.”
McMillan continued, “When they scored the touchdown, we thought, ‘The game wasn’t over.’ We just had to go out there and get the job done.”
However, the real capstone of the night – and perhaps a sign that this good-but-not-good-enough Kansas team has turned a corner – was John Randle’s 43-yard touchdown run with 3:16 left in the game and KU clinging to a three-point lead.
“We played a whole game today. I’ve talked about that at every media session: just playing a whole game. We finally did that tonight. The defense got a lot of stops, three-and-outs, fourth-down stops. The offense played two halves tonight, and we came out with a win.”
Mark Simmons, whose one-handed 31-yard touchdown catch regained the lead for Kansas, said his team knew that this game night had to be different than the previous three.
“We knew that it can’t happen again. And the heart our team showed… hats off to the o-line, the d-line, the whole defense, the whole offense, everybody.”
Simmons continued, saying without hesitation that there was no sense on the KU sideline that this one was going to get away.
“We knew that our offense was going to get the opportunity to get the win, and we took full advantage of it,” he said.
So maybe there was some pay-off for those losses to Northwestern, Texas Tech and Nebraska. Maybe the Marines aren’t the only ones who are forged by fire. And Lord knows, if anyone’s been under fire, it’s been the close-but-no-cigar Jayhawks and their head coach, Mark Mangino.
Mangino said, “When you’re in it for the long haul, you have to prepare your kids for adversity and success. That’s what we did from the first day I got here. We told our kids that there were going to be dark days and tough times, and bad times don’t last forever. But we could never lose track of where we’re going. The games that are behind us are behind us. Win, lose, draw, good or bad, just keep sawing wood. Because it’s going to happen.”
And it did. It couldn’t have come at a better time, or against a better opponent.
Other game notes
- Congratulations to former KU recruit and current Kansas State tight end Rashaad Norwood, who had plenty to say this past week about the upcoming game with KU. He made his first collegiate reception against KU. In a losing effort.
I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.
- Heisman hopeful Darren Sproles started the game with a bang but went out with a whimper. Even though he rushed for a respectable 73 yards on 24 carries, nine carries and 49 of those yards were gained in the first quarter. Doing the math, Sproles gained just 24 yards on 15 carries from there.
What did KU do differently after the first stanza? Nothing, it turns out.
“Our defensive coaches stayed with the game plan. (KU defensive coordinator Bill Young) was calling the (KSU) plays out before the ball was snapped. Great preparation by Bill and the staff,” praised Mangino.
- Mangino was asked if beating his former mentor, KSU coach Bill Snyder, was a personal milestone.
“Absolutely not,” Mangino said, “as much as (the media) want to write about it and talk about it. I have great admiration and respect for coach Snyder. I had a good talk with him before the game today.”
“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Bill Snyder is going to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame someday, and I’m going to have to buy a ticket to get in there to see it,” Mangino said, smiling.
- Cornerback Tony Stubbs was injured in the 2nd quarter and watched the rest of the game from the bench. The extent of his injury was not known immediately following the game.