When he received the game ball from Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger, safety Fish Smithson already knew what he was going to say to coach David Beaty.
Standing in the locker room following Kansas’ 24-21 overtime victory over Texas, Smithson congratulated Beaty on his first Big 12 win. He followed by talking about how good of a person Beaty was.
And just before turning over the game ball, Smithson ended with this: There was no better man to lead the KU football program. The coach dipped his head in his hands — about to become emotional — when KU’s players didn’t let him get there. As a group, they picked him up, putting him on their shoulders while celebrating the Jayhawks’ first win over Texas in more than 75 years.
“A lot of pictures and a lot of smiles,” Smithson said. “It was just a big joyful moment.”
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There were plenty of those Saturday night at Memorial Stadium. They started after Matthew Wyman’s 25-yard game-winning field goal in overtime, when fans who had stuck with the program through a chilly night, 19 straight Big 12 losses and an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit rushed the field to help celebrate the momentous occasion.
On the north end, students continued tradition, tearing down the goal posts as KU’s public-address announcer pleaded with them to stop. Meanwhile, defensive end Dorance Armstrong was so busy with fans that he made it back to the locker room in the middle of a speech.
“I honestly feel like I took a picture with every person that was in this stadium,” Armstrong said.
Beaty allowed himself to soak up the postgame environment as well.
He pumped his fist immediately after Wyman’s field goal sailed through, accepting hugs from every player and coach within arm’s reach.
The gravity of the moment set in more as he made his way off the field.
He hugged volleyball coach Ray Bechard (who’d won his own Big 12 title earlier in the day) and also former quarterback Todd Reesing — one of the faces that has often reminded fans of KU football’s success in the recent past.
The best moment, though, was when he found KU alum Dana Anderson, whose name appears on the team’s football complex next to the stadium. The two embraced, with Beaty finally able to give a conference victory to the person who had continued to support the team through its toughest days.
“I almost lost it,” Beaty said.
The coach would think of others. Just behind the KU bench was Ben Goodman, a senior from last year who grinded through the Jayhawks’ 0-12 season.
Beaty made a promise to those seniors: “Do the right thing and help set the foundation, and I’ll be sure you’re never be forgotten.”
He made sure to bring up those seniors in his postgame talk.
Right after his press conference, Goodman was waiting for him outside the door. The two shook hands, with a smiling Goodman telling his former coach, “Congratulations.”
“This is just the first step,” Beaty told him.
It’s certainly a significant one.
After having to recruit to an 0-12 program last season, KU’s coaching staff now has an instant credibility-builder … especially in Beaty’s old stomping grounds in Texas. Getting a victory over the Longhorns should resonate with many kids he’s trying to impress.
“That’s a good football team over there, and they’ve got a bunch of really, really talented guys,” Beaty said. “Going toe-to-toe with those guys and coming up with a victory, I think it says a lot about the direction our program is headed.”
KU’s win also was extra satisfying for someone such as Houston native Armstrong, who went to two University of Texas camps in high school and talked to the team’s coaches often.
Armstrong, who had 11 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery Saturday, never received a scholarship offer from the Longhorns.
“I felt like I had something to prove,” Armstrong said.
Those in the KU football program, after so many close calls, had to wonder at times what it was going to take to get that FBS win that had eluded the Jayhawks in Beaty’s first two seasons.
The answer came Saturday: Force six turnovers. Execute on key plays down the stretch. Make clutch field goals when you have to.
Those three aspects all came together as KU rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit while picking up its first victory over Texas since 1938.
It was a relief as well, especially for the 25 seniors who experienced their final home game.
That included Smithson, who says he came to KU wanting to be part of something bigger than himself. He wanted to lay the groundwork for the future, hoping to create a signature moment that would help with Kansas football’s rebirth.
After starting his career 4-30, Smithson’s payoff was Saturday, as he handed over the game ball to a coach he believes will get many more in the future.
“It’s not easy going through what we went through, but I definitely think it was rewarding,” Smithson said. “I wouldn’t want to have my career anywhere else.”
Kansas 24, Texas 21
TEX: Warrick 75 pass from Buechele (Domingue kick), 14:49
KAN: Stewart 55 interception return (Wyman kick), 5:04
KAN: FG Wyman 36, 2:27
TEX: D.Foreman 2 run (Domingue kick), 11:27
TEX: D.Foreman 1 run (Domingue kick), 13:34
KAN: Herbert 1 run (S.Sims run), 7:48
KAN: FG Wyman 36, 2:27
KAN: FG Wyman 25, :00
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Texas, D.Foreman 51-250, Swoopes 2-(minus 1), Porter 2-(minus 2), Buechele 7-(minus 4), (Team) 1-(minus 5). Kansas, Kinner 20-69, Stanley 6-26, Herbert 10-26, Martin 2-4, S.Sims 1-(minus 13).
PASSING: Texas, Swoopes 0-1-0-0, Buechele 17-26-3-165. Kansas, Stanley 21-42-1-220.
RECEIVING: Texas, Heard 4-24, Warrick 3-82, Oliver 3-25, Bluiett 2-11, Leonard 2-8, De.Duvernay 1-10, A.Foreman 1-6, D.Foreman 1-(minus 1). Kansas, S.Sims 7-79, Kinner 7-68, L.Gonzalez 3-41, Barbel 2-17, Brewer 1-9, Bates 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Texas, Domingue 32.