No. 23 K-State rallies from 11-point deficit to beat Kansas 31-27 in Sunflower Showdown

Kansas wide receiver Lawrence Arnold (2) chases a fumble during the first half of an NCAA...
Kansas wide receiver Lawrence Arnold (2) chases a fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Kansas State Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)(Charlie Riedel | AP)
Published: Nov. 19, 2023 at 10:21 AM CST
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State celebrated on the Jayhawk logo at midfield inside Memorial Stadium one more time Saturday night, shortly after the Wildcats extended their Sunshine Showdown winning streak to 15 straight in the final game before the 102-year-old home of rival Kansas begins a massive renovation.

Will Howard threw two touchdown passes and ran for the go-ahead score, and the No. 23 Wildcats capitalized on two special teams blunders, allowing them to overcome an 11-point second-half deficit and escape with a 31-27 victory.

“Resolve. Toughness. Battling for your brothers,” Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said. “That was a good football team we beat in a really good environment. We knew we were going to get their best shot and I think we did.”

D.J. Giddens added 102 yards rushing and a score for the reigning Big 12 champs, who kept alive their chances of defending the title in part by turning a blocked extra point into a 2-point return and a muffed punt into the go-ahead TD with 10:22 to go.

The Wildcats (8-3, 6-2, No. 21 CFP) allowed Kansas (7-4, 4-4, No. 25) to march right back down the field, led by former walk-on Cole Ballard at quarterback. But the Jayhawks’ drive stalled at the Kansas State 11, and Ballard was picked off in the end zone by Marques Sigle on fourth down to turn the ball over with just more than five minutes left.

Kansas State cornerback Keenan Garber (1) breaks up a pass intended for Kansas wide receiver...
Kansas State cornerback Keenan Garber (1) breaks up a pass intended for Kansas wide receiver Lawrence Arnold during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, in Lawrence, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)(Charlie Riedel | AP)

Howard and Giddens picked up first downs from there to keep the clock running, and Howard hit Phillip Brooks on third-and-7 with about two minutes to go — the catch near the sideline stood after a review — to wrap up the victory.

“This means a lot being from Kansas,” Giddens said long afterward.

Ballard had 162 yards passing with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Jayhawks. Devin Neal, who took plenty of direct snaps to take pressure off the freshman QB, finished with 138 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

“Proud of our guys for battling,” Kansas coach Lance Leipold said. “We had some opportunities that we left out there: turned the ball over, had a chance to get a bigger lead and didn’t make it happen. Can’t do that against ranked football teams.”

The latest edition of the fourth-longest played series in the FBS started like many of the previous 14: Kansas State hit on a couple of deep throws, then Howard found Ben Sinnott in the back of the end zone just over a minute into the game.

But that all-too-familiar blowout script quickly went in another direction.

Ballard, starting in place of the injured Jalon Daniels and Jason Bean, led three long touchdown drives that soaked up the first-half clock and kept the Wildcats off the field. Neal finished the first when he slipped out of VJ Payne’s tackle and ran 36 yards, then the second with a nine-yard run, before Ballard hit Lawrence Arnold just before halftime for a 20-16 lead.

The lead should have been larger, but the Jayhawks had an extra point blocked by Nate Matlack. The deflection was caught by receiver-turned-cornerback Keenan Garber, who returned it 91 yards for the 2-point conversion.

“That really changed the game,” Klieman said.

Kansas opened the second half with Ballard hitting Mason Fairchild for 59 yards and Neal adding his third TD run two plays later. But the Wildcats answered with a long drive of their own, twice converting on third down, opening a lane for Giddens to get into the end zone, and converting the 2-point try to get within 27-24 heading to the fourth quarter.

That’s when the Jayhawks’ Trevor Wilson fumbled a punt that he was trying to catch on a dead run. The Wildcats took over near midfield, converted a crucial third down and then opened a lane for Howard for the go-ahead score.

Sigle’s interception in the end zone and some tough running by Giddens and Howard put the game away.

“There’s no words to describe this,” said Kansas State offensive lineman Cooper Beebe, a likely first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft. “That’s a really good team and to finish it off the way we did is just a spectacular feeling.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Kansas State simply found a way to win, and that’s all that matters with a spot in the Big 12 title game up for grabs. Texas leads at 7-1 in conference play heading into the final weekend with the Wildcats, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State one game back.

Leipold has said repeatedly that his team needs to play the Wildcats tough to turn the Sunflower Showdown into a rivalry again. The Jayhawks did that Saturday night despite playing a former walk-on at quarterback.

UP NEXT

Kansas State wraps its regular season next Saturday against Iowa State.

Kansas visits Cincinnati next Saturday to finish the regular season.

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