Kansas State’s winning streak over Kansas continued, but its recent dominance in the Sunflower Showdown was put to the test on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium.
The Wildcats trailed much of the way and needed a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Jayhawks 21-17 on a chilly afternoon in front of a less-than-capacity crowd.
It started in the final five minutes when K-State took over at midfield following a KU punt. Running back Alex Barnes converted a fourth-down run, Dalton Schoen made a huge catch for 28 yards up the left side and then quarterback Alex Delton broke free for a touchdown run of 21 yards.
Just like that, K-State was suddenly in control of a game that previously seemed to be teetering toward KU.
The Jayhawks still had an opportunity for a go-ahead scoring on their final drive and moved across midfield, but KU quarterback Peyton Bender lost control of his final pass attempt and fumbled the ball. K-State defensive end Bronson Massie recovered the fumble and the Wildcats held on for victory.
It was a much-needed win for K-State (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) and a heart-wrenching loss for KU (3-7, 1-6).
K-State has now won 10 straight in this rivalry. KU coach David Beaty, who will not be retained next season, will exit the Sunflower Showdown with an 0-4 mark against the Wildcats.
Still, this was an ugly game.
Despite what the box score says, in reality, there weren’t many winners among those who attended the annual rivalry game.
These two programs combined to hit a new low with their performance. It went from a first half of embarrassing offenses to a second-half of cover-your-eyes blunders, making it must-see only in the aspect that one couldn’t predict the sort of absurdity that was coming next.
K-State, known historically for its special teams, failed to recover the second-half kickoff, ran into KU’s kickers twice, muffed a punt and and dropped a hold on a field-goal attempt.
The Wildcats, building a program on power football, couldn’t muster a few inches on a fourth-and-short quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter. That seemed like it would be significant as well.
But KU somehow made even more mistakes.
Pooka Williams fumbled a kickoff return. Two huge KU fourth-quarter runs were wiped away by holding penalties. And on the second one, tight end Mavin Saunders temporarily lost his mind, picking up an official’s flag and tossing it, stepping on it to pretend hide it, then kicking it after his call to draw another penalty: unsportsmanlike conduct.
After a punt, the ensuing possession resulted in the game-winning score, as Alex Delton rushed in for a 21-yard touchdown with 2:46 left.
The game ended as silly as it was throughout, with KU’s Peyton Bender having the ball slip out of his hand on a forward pass for a fumble that was recovered by K-State with 20 seconds left.
KU led 3-0 at halftime, but K-State scored the game’s first touchdown early in the third quarter.
The Wildcats marched 64 plays on five plays and went ahead 7-3 on a 24-yard run from Alex Barnes.
At the time, it felt like that might be all the points K-State would need to win a low-scoring Sunflower Showdown. But the game changed radically from there. Both teams shifted into overdrive and exchanged touchdowns the rest of the way.
Kansas scored its first touchdown on the ensuing drive when Peyton Bender led the Jayhawks into the red zone and then found Jeremiah Booker for nine yards. Just like that, it led 10-7.
But K-State answered right back with a touchdown drive of its own that was capped by Barnes’ second scoring run of the day. The Wildcats led 14-10 with 2:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Once again, the Wildcats appeared in control. And, once again, that feeling was short lived. The Jayhawks jumped back ahead on the opening play of the fourth quarter when Bender found Steven Sims open across the middle for 65 yards and a touchdown.
Then K-State won with its fourth-quarter heroics.
K-State is next in action against Texas Tech at home. KU will next play at Oklahoma.