For eleven years, Kansas had come up on the short end of the Kansas State series. And boy, it was ugly. During that time period, the Wildcats were stronger, faster, more physical and meaner. They dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and the skill position players put most of those games out of reach by halftime.
But this year’s Wildcat team had a different feel to it. A new quarterback was running the offense. The offensive line lost two potential starters just before the season began. The receivers were talented but, like most of the rest of the team, were inexperienced.
The defense was in the same boat, and thus far had lacked the teeth of previous Wildcat defenses. To add to the Wildcats’ plight was the fact that All-America running back Darren Sproles all of a sudden came down with ball-vomiting syndrome.
All of which brought the teams into this game. Both teams played as they had leading up to the game. Kansas struggled to put together consistent offense and almost gave away another game late as they had the last three weeks. Kansas State’s defense didn’t play up to par and the offensive line struggled to move Kansas around, resulting in a poor day for Sproles.
The star tailback looked for daylight, but instead found plenty of navy blue Kansas jerseys. Following a huge start in which Sproles rattled off 49 yards on nine carries in the first quarter, Kansas slammed the door shut, allowing just 24 yards on his 15 carries the rest of the game and in effect turning Kansas State into a one dimensional ballclub based on shaky quarterback play.
That quarterback play was compounded by the fact that Alan Webb started the game instead of Dylan Meier. Webb, who appeared to have happy feet, was harassed into –15 yards rushing on six carries and completed four of his nine passes for 57 yards and one interception. The stats were aided by a 48-yard pass play though.
In the second half, Kansas State’s offense kicked back into gear with Dylan Meier, who relieved Webb in the third quarter. Despite playing just a half, Meier threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns on 15-24 passing. He sparked Kansas State back from an 11-point deficit and actually brought the Wildcats into the lead 21-17 with an 86-yard strike to Tony Madison early in the fourth quarter.
But Kansas had a spark of its own. Mark Mangino put in Swanson in relief of Barmann, and he got off to a rocky start. On Swanson’s first series, he was sacked and fumbled the ball into the arms of a Kansas State defender. But as Mangino said afterwards, Swanson was a confident kid.
On his next series, Mark Simmons broke free by the slimmest margin and Swanson found him. With a defender immediately on Simmons’ left arm, there was only one place to put the ball so that Simmons would make a play, and Swanson put it there, by the inch. The result was a one-handed, right-handed snag of a 31-yard touchdown that put Kansas back in the lead 24-21.
“I told the receivers when we went back to the huddle to let me know if they were beating their guys off the line,” Swanson said. “Mark came back and said ‘I got him, I got him,’ so I said I would look at him first. I looked and he had a step, so I put it up there.”
“Man what a pass,” Simmons said. “He put that right on the money, I couldn’t drop that one, I would have felt bad.”
But Kansas wasn’t finished there. After the defense forced a Kansas State punt, Kansas started to run the clock down. But then Mangino called a play that he thought might go to the house. A lead play to Randle with Brandon McAnderson opening the hole.
Mangino’s thoughts were correct. McAnderson made a great kick-out block and Randle darted through the hole. But what might have been a 10-yard run turned into much more. Randle spun, made a guy miss and outran three defenders to the endzone for an explosive 43-yard touchdown run and a 31-21 lead.
“I had some problems keeping my feet through the game,” Randle said. “I just tried to keep my feet, and I did.”
Kansas managed to hold off a late Kansas State rally thanks to a Charles Gordon recovery of an onside kick and the Jayhawks held on.
Fans tore down the goal posts as they came from the stands and from the Campanile. Hundreds of fans who couldn’t get into the game (it was almost a full house and tickets weren’t exactly cheap) began hopping the chain link fence at the south end of the stadium to help with the effort. When some got hurt making the jump (the fence was 10-15 feet tall), people began to cut under the fence. Eventually, the gates were opened and all celebrated the victory.
It wasn’t pretty, but Kansas fans will definitely take it. As will Nick Reid, a Kansan from Derby who finished with a team leading 11 tackles.
“This is unbelievable, such a great feeling,” Reid said. “When you grow up in Kansas, they talk all about this one. It was a great win.”
David McMillan agreed. Although from Kileen, Texas, the senior has had some big games against K-State, including last year’s effort when he sawed Ell Roberson in half early in the game for a sack. In this year’s version, McMillan chased Webb and Meier all over the field while recording two tackles for loss.
“I guess if you look at the record, I really do play my best against them,” McMillan said. “I’m not from around here, but you do know this is a rivalry game and that everybody is watching you. I just try to get those eyes to focus on me.”
While the team was excited in general, a couple of players still were somewhat down, and with good reason. As fantastic of a win as this game was, Kansas is just 10 points from an undefeated record and position in the driver’s seat in the Big 12 North, not to mention a probable spot in the top 15. In a season that the North winner could take the division with a 5-3 conference record, those first two losses to Texas Tech and Nebraska could prove costly in the race with Texas and Oklahoma still looming on the schedule.
Still, as deadly as that schedule is, Kansas, with a 3-3 record, may just be able to pull out bowl eligibility. Remaining games include at Oklahoma, at Iowa State, Colorado at home, Texas at home and Missouri in Columbia. The Jayhawks believe they can win three of those games.
“We go out every week like we’re a North contender,” Mark Simmons said. “We try to play like it, and we know we’re so close from being 6-0. Hopefully we can take this game and play well the rest of the year.”