A rough night on special teams spoiled an otherwise strong showing by the Kansas football team, and a stage that was set for an epic victory in the home finale, turned sour in the form of a 31-27 loss to their in-state rivals.
After leading 20-16 at halftime, KU (7-4 overall, 4-4 Big 12) scored a touchdown on the opening possession of the second half to take a 27-16 lead with still 28+ minutes remaining.
Kansas State (8-3, 6-2) took advantage of all of that time left, outscoring the Jayhawks 15-0 the rest of the way to win for the 15th consecutive time in the Sunflower Showdown.
There’s no doubt that this one will sting more and longer for the Jayhawks, who had plenty of chances to win, even with freshman QB Cole Ballard starting in place of Jason Bean, who was suited up but did not play.
Next up, KU heads to Cincinnati next weekend to close out the regular season. From there, they’ll await their bowl fate and the announcement of their postseason destination, which is slated to be revealed on Dec. 3.
Here’s a look back at some of the memorable moments from Saturday night.
• Atmosphere was amazing: The home fans might not have got the result they wanted, but boy did they give the Booth a heck of a send-off. Both teams entered the contest ranked in the Top 25 of the College Football Playoff Rankings and the game, which kicked off at 6 p.m., drew a sellout crowd and hours and hours of pregame tailgating around the stadium. For goodness sake, the students not only packed the place to the top but they were in their seats 30 minutes prior to kickoff. The weather even cooperated, with sunny skies and warm temperatures proving the perfect tailgating environment ahead of kickoff. The renovations will start as early as next week, with construction crews starting to move things out of the stadium to prepare for the dismantling of the west side of the stadium. By the end of the year, the entire west side — press box and all — should be reduced to rubble and the first steps of the renovation of the Gateway District will officially be under way.
• Devin Neal dazzles: Whether from the Wildcat formation or on straight handoffs, KU junior Devin Neal had another big night running the ball, with his yards gained just barely out-numbering the number of eye-popping cuts and jukes he made to keep plays alive. Neal, a native Kansan who went to Lawrence High School, finished with 138 yards and 3 TDs on 18 carries, bringing his best to the Sunflower Showdown that he grew up watching.
• Leipold gets fiery: It might not have mattered much or changed the outcome, but you have to like watching KU coach Lance Leipold lay into the officials after a fourth-down flag on the Kansas defense in the first half. The flag kept K-State’s drive alive and later led to points for the visitors. Both at the time when the defensive holding call happened and for several minutes after that for 50 or 60 yards along the KU sideline, Leipold tore into the officials for throwing the flag.
• Ballard on 4th down early: He wasn’t perfect, but the former walk-on, who was put on scholarship about a month ago, made enough big throws in this one to gain a second week of serious praise for his play and poise. None was bigger than a fourth-down throw to Quentin Skinner in the first half that led to a Kansas touchdown a few plays later. For the second week in a row, Ballard also made a few plays with his legs, showing that the moment is not too big for him to take the field and compete against a Power 5 defense. Unfortunately for Kansas, his two interceptions were both big, but the Jayhawks still had plenty of chances to win this game even with those picks and just couldn’t get it done.
More from Saturday's 31-27 KU loss to No. 23 K-State...
• Rich Miller’s almost moment: Kansas linebacker Rich Miller, who has put as much heart and soul into this program during the past three years — and into football through his life — had a chance to put the Wildcats away early in the second half, with the Jayhawks leading 27-16. Miller stepped right in front of a slant pass by Will Howard and had it hit both of his hands before falling to the ground. Had he caught it, he would’ve been able to walk backwards into the end zone for a 34-16 KU lead. Instead, he dropped it, K-State hit on a 52-yard run on its very next play and later in the drive scored to cut the Kansas lead to 27-24 with 6:37 to play in the third quarter.
• Don’t throw it, don’t throw it, don’t throw it: On a third-down play late in the third quarter, Ballard scrambled to buy time and found his footing for a chance to look downfield. When he did, he saw Mason Fairchild flash open for a second and lobbed a soft pass into him. Three K-State players quickly converged, though, and the ball was batted into the air and intercepted by the Wildcats. It was the first time in two weeks that Ballard’s inexperience showed. The KU defense erased the mistake on the ensuing KSU drive with Mello Dotson’s fourth interception of the season. Later in the game, Ballard had another moment where an ill-advised throw turned into a KSU interception in the end zone.
• Kicking woes strike again: Kansas place kicker Seth Keller missed yet another extra point try in this one, and, this time, it was returned by Kansas State for 2 points. The gaffe came after KU scored its second touchdown of the night to take what looked like it would be a 14-7 lead. Instead, the kick was blocked and returned by the Wildcats for 2 points to make the score Kansas 13, Kansas State 9. KU still lead, but the return stole a fair amount of momentum from the home team. That missed PAT and the two points that the Wildcats got as a result, changed the way the rest of the game was played and eliminated what would have been a chance at a go-ahead field goal by the Jayhawks late in the fourth quarter, when they elected to go for it on fourth down while trailing 31-27 instead of taking three points.
• 1st and Uh Oh: The stadium was packed, the crowd was loud, the buzz had been building all day and the game was finally under way. And then K-State connected on a 46-yard pass play on the first offensive snap of the game and sucked the wind out of Memorial Stadium rather quickly. To the fans’ credit, they tried to stay loud. But K-State’s opening drive — after KU won the coin toss and deferred its choice to the second half — took just 1:16 to drive 75 yards in 5 plays for the game’s opening score and a 7-0 lead.
• Jalon Daniels suited up: If you forgot for a minute that KU quarterback Jalon Daniels had been hurt all season and his return and the questions surrounding it were a season-long topic, you surely would’ve thought he was going to play in this one. Suited up in full pads and walking out to midfield with his teammates and fellow-captains for the opening coin toss, Daniels did something very cool and befitting of Senior Day. Rather than walking all the way out there to take part in the coin flip, he peeled off about 8 yards onto the field, tapped each of his senior captains on the helmet and then stayed put while they went out for the opening ritual.
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