LAWRENCE — The ball hung in the air, spinning toward the goalposts.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
One year ago, on Saturdays like this, Matthew Wyman would have been standing in the KU student section or following the game from his dorm room at McCollum Hall.
Back then, Wyman was a former high school soccer player from Michigan, a freshman who showed up at Kansas with a dream of kicking for the football team. And when he didn’t survive a short tryout in the fall, he spent the semester being a regular college student.
So on Saturday afternoon, as Wyman jogged out onto the field with 2 seconds left and KU tied with Louisiana Tech, he tried not to think about the ridiculousness of a walk-on kicker lining up a potential game-winner from 52 yards out.
“It’s weird, knowing that I was up in the student section last year cheering,” Wyman said later.
He took his normal routine, measuring out his steps, and then took a heavy swing with his right foot.
Past its apex, the ball was on track but clearly had little distance to spare. It finally settled through the uprights with a yard or two of room. The clock read 0:00, and Wyman soon found himself at the bottom of a raucous dog pile near midfield.
Kansas 13, Louisiana Tech 10.
Depending on your perspective, KU’s victory was either the “greatest ugly” performance in recent KU history — or maybe the “ugliest great” one. The Jayhawks needed two fourth-quarter fumbles from Louisiana Tech — both inside the 5-yard line — to snap a 22-game losing streak against teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision. That streak dated back to a victory over Northern Illinois in September 2011 and covered the first 14 games of the Charlie Weis’ regime.
The Jayhawks also overcame two interceptions from quarterback Jake Heaps, a struggling running game and an offense that scored just three points in the first 50 minutes. Oh yeah, Wyman also missed a chip-shot 28-yarder in the first half.
But for Weis, there was plenty of beauty in the would-be dumpster fire.
“I’m too old,” Weis said. “I’m in crummy shape. I don’t need games like that. But that might be the best thing that happened for our team. Because who knows? I’m kind of counting on us being able to look back to this game and saying, ‘That was the game when they turned the corner.’”
Early Saturday morning, Weis said he had talked with a person in the program, wondering when KU would catch a break or build some momentum. After last week’s loss at Rice, he’d shaken up the offense by inserting three new starters at receiver and tight end. But even that plan was altered after sophomore receiver Tre’ Parmalee had an appendectomy and missed Saturday’s game.
When KU fell behind 10-3 after three quarters, it looked like another mess.
But very quickly, the fortunes shifted. First came a fumble by Louisiana Tech quarterback Ryan Higgins, just as the Bulldogs were set to go up 17-3 with 13 minutes left. After a second interception by Heaps, Higgins had broken free for a 27-yard run to the 2-yard, stretching the ball toward the goal line as he reached the sideline.
The ball squirted into the end zone for a touchback. And KU capitalized with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a 22-yard touchdown pass from Heaps to tight end Jimmay Mundine, one of those pass-catchers who’d lost his job.
“When the quarterback put it in the end zone,” KU nose tackle Keon Stowers said. “That was a play from God.”
The next break came courtesy of the KU defense, which is allowing just 13.3 points per game after three weeks. With less than two minutes left, as Louisiana Tech drove for the go-ahead score, KU linebacker Michael Reynolds ripped the ball from running back Kenneth Dixon inside the 5. Stowers emerged with the ball, and Heaps engineered a drive to the Louisiana Tech 35-yard line, setting up Wyman’s game-winner.
“It may not be the prettiest win,” Heaps said. “But it definitely is a big step for our football team.”
For proper context, it’s important to note that Louisiana Tech, 1-3, was coming off a home loss to Tulane, a Conference USA program that finished 2-10 last year. For Weis, though, none of that mattered.
KU could finally celebrate something positive. The walk-on kicker had come through. The Jayhawks had rushed the field like they’d just become bowl eligible. And with a bye next week, before a Big 12 opener against Texas Tech on Oct. 5, the kicker sat in front of a pack of cameras, an unlikely hero in a beautiful mess.
“I’ve always wanted to be like famous,” Wyman would say, a little sheepishly. “So I guess I’m a little famous.”