The weather was bad and the crowd was small, but the Kansas State football team hardly noticed. As kickoff approached Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the Wildcats moved with the kind of energy you see before a bowl game.
They were fired up, they were focused and they were motivated. It showed in a 45-14 victory over Kansas, keeping the Governor’s Cup in Manhattan.
“There is nothing bigger than winning this game,” K-State quarterback Joe Hubener said. “For us Kansas kids, it means everything.”
Senior defensive back Morgan Burns made sure his teammates understood the importance of the Sunflower Showdown, a rivalry that doesn’t register on the national scale.
Burns told stories about previous victories throughout the week and ramped things up with an emotional speech Friday evening. Then he forced a fumble, blocked a punt, intercepted a pass and scored a touchdown.
He sparked the Wildcats to a 35-7 halftime lead.
“He came out of his shell,” line backer Elijah Lee said. “He has had a good season, but today he was like a new person. He played great this game and he wanted this game. You could tell. He told some of us last night he wanted this game bad. That rubbed off on the rest of us.”
Why was Burns so motivated?
“I can think of a lot of reasons,” Burns said. “The last couple days, some of the seniors and guys from Kansas have been expressing how much this game this means to them. I was playing for them. I was playing for the seniors and my team. I want to do everything I can to help my team win.
“Most of all, I just want to go out strong.”
The way K-State is playing right now, it may end the season strong enough to reach a bowl game.
Saturday’s result helps. This was the type of game K-State has been waiting for.
The Wildcats took care of business against a winless opponent and won comfortably, annihilating the Jayhawks and playing backups in the fourth quarter.
It was their most lopsided victory since a 34-0 win over South Dakota in the opener. It was also their second consecutive win, putting the Wildcats, 5-6 overall and 2-6 in the Big 12, within reach of bowl eligibility. They can clinch a postseason invitation with a win next week against West Virginia.
Those are all positives worthy of celebration, and K-State players had a good time with the Governor’s Cup when this one was over. For the seventh straight year, the Sunflower Showdown trophy will stay in Manhattan. The rivalry appears as one-sided as ever.
Still, the postgame festivities were subdued compared with last week, when K-State rallied late to beat Iowa State. And the emotions were nothing compared with narrow losses to Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU. This one felt businesslike.
Still, K-State coach Bill Snyder wanted more.
“If you don’t play well at all, you are not a good team,” Snyder said. “If you play well some of the time, you are an average team. If you play well all the time, you are a good team. We need to be a good team. … We still haven’t put two halves together.”
Snyder said he liked his team’s effort in the first half but was disappointed in the second half.
When asked if he was relieved to finally get a drama-free win, he shook his head.
“It makes me mad,” Snyder said. “It makes me mad when we don’t play well. We got up and didn’t handle it very well.”
That mind-set goes a long way toward explaining why Snyder is king of this series. He’s 20-4 against the Jayhawks.
The Wildcats have won every year since Snyder returned in 2009, with the average margin of victory checking in at just more than 33 points. The Jayhawks have cycled through five coaches – including an interim – during that time. David Beaty got his first taste of the coaching matchup Saturday, and the result clinched his struggling program’s second winless season. The first was 1954.
This game was over quickly.
It was obvious K-State was the superior team from the beginning, when it forced Kansas to go three-and-out and punt on its opening series. Then Burns tackled KU punter Matthew Wyman as he tried to boot the ball away, resulting in a fumble that was recovered by K-State’s Sam Sizelove. Fullback Winston Dimel scored on the next play.
The Jayhawks responded with a quick touchdown drive and tied the score when Ryan Willis hit Tre Parmalee for a 27-yard touchdown. But they didn’t have enough of those plays in them to hang with the Wildcats over the long haul.
K-State dominated from there, taking a 35-7 lead into halftime on four straight touchdowns. They came on a 1-yard run by Dimel, a blocked punt from Burns, an 8-yard run by fullback Glenn Gronkowski and a 2-yard run by Hubener.
It was cold and raining at kickoff. And the crowd was small, filling less than half the stadium. In those elements, the tougher team was sure to have an advantage. K-State clearly had the edge in that category.
None of its players put up big stats – the best came from Hubener with 133 passing yards and 88 rushing yards and two touchdowns – but they all played fundamentally sound football.
It committed one penalty, and didn’t lose a turnover until the game was out of hand and Kody Cook took over at quarterback. Burns made a push for player of the game by jarring the ball loose on two punts and making an interception.
By comparison, Kansas was penalized five times and bobbled the ball at several key moments, including an early punt and a fourth-down conversion attempt. Willis looked good at times, throwing for 205 yards and two touchdowns, but he lacked consistency.
That wasn’t an issue for K-State. It rarely is in a blowout victory.
“Everything is beginning to turn around,” Burns said. “In the second half against Iowa State, everything began to click on all three sides of the ball. We carried that momentum into this game and we will carry it into next week, as well.”
KANSAS STATE 45, KANSAS 14
TableStyle: SP-byperiodsCCI Template: SP-byperiods
KSU: Dimel 12 run (Cantele kick), 13:09.
KU: Parmalee 27 pass from Willis (Wyman kick), 11:15.
KSU: Dimel 1 run (McCrane kick), 7:48.
KSU: Burns 0 blocked punt return (McCrane kick), 6:30.
KSU: Gronkowski 8 run (McCrane kick), 1:30.
KSU: Hubener 2 run (McCrane kick), 9:17.
KSU: FG McCrane 33, 8:18.
KSU: Hubener 22 run (McCrane kick), 13:20.
KU: Hartzog 26 pass from Willis (Wyman kick), 3:28.
TableStyle: SP-footballstatsCCI Template: SP-footballstats
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Kansas St., Hubener 17-88, Jones 13-70, Dimel 5-25, Silmon 6-18, Warmack 4-16, Gronkowski 2-10, Team 1-0, Cook 1-(minus 1). Kansas, Cox 11-47, Mann 6-41, Willis 9-18, Kinner 5-17, Parmalee 1-2, Schadler 1-0, Perry 1-(minus 12), Wyman 1-(minus 13).
PASSING: Kansas St., Hubener 10-17-0-133, Cook 1-2-1-4, Davidson 0-1-0-0. Kansas, Willis 19-35-1-215.
RECEIVING: Kansas St., Cook 3-33, Burton 3-16, Dimel 1-44, Gronkowski 1-31, A.Davis 1-8, Weber 1-4, Reuter 1-1. Kansas, Parmalee 4-50, Patrick 4-30, Sims 2-58, Johnson 2-20, Taylor 2-13, Hartzog 1-26, Mann 1-10, Kinner 1-5, Booker 1-4, Cox 1-(minus 1).
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett