MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State University (K-State) Wildcats coach Chris Klieman didn’t want to back into the Big 12 title game by having the University of Texas Longhorns lose to the Baylor University Bears.
He wanted his Wildcats to earn their spot in Arlington.
So after the Longhorns took care of business a day earlier, the No. 15 Wildcats stepped onto the field Saturday night and demolished their biggest rival, the University of Kansas (KU) Jayhawks, in the Sunflower Showdown.
Will Howard threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns, Deuce Vaughn ran for 147 yards and a score, and the Wildcats routed the Jayhawks 47-27 to earn a shot at payback against the Texas Christian University (TCU) Horned Frogs next weekend.
“The guys needed to earn this,” Klieman said after drying out from three-plus hours spent in the rain. “We’re smart enough to realize there was a lot of pressure on us as a coaching staff, us as players, to finish this deal, and we had one more chapter in the regular season, and they finished it the right way and earned the opportunity.”
The Wildcats blew a 28-10 lead and lost 38-28 to the Horned Frogs during the regular season. Now, they’ll face each other again on Dec. 3 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with a College Football Playoff spot likely on the line for the Horned Frogs.
It will be the first time the Wildcats play in the Big 12 title game, which went on hiatus from 2010-17 since toppling then-No. 1 Oklahoma in 2003 during Hall of Fame coach Bill Snyder’s first tenure. The Horned Frogs were beaten by the Sooners in their only previous appearance in the 2017 championship game.
“I’m not sure they’re going to want to see us again,” Wildcats safety Drake Cheatum said, “but we’ll be ready.”
Malik Knowles added a pair of touchdown runs, and Philip Brooks and Sammy Wheeler also reached the end zone as the Wildcats (9-3, 7-2, No. 12 CFP) beat the Jayhawks for the 14th straight time in a game they needed to win.
Jalon Daniels threw for 168 yards while running for a touchdown, and Devin Neal also had two TD runs as the Jayhawks — bowl-bound for the first time since 2008 — finished the regular season by losing six of their final seven games.
“Jalon was able to run the ball a little bit tonight. We were a little more active in the option game than we have been in a while. It gave us a chance,” Jayhawks coach Lance Leipold said, “but obviously not enough.”
The Jayhawks (6-6, 3-6) made enough mistakes in the first quarter alone Saturday night to fill an entire game.
The result was a hole it could never escape.
The trouble began when O.J. Burroughs muffed a punt after a nice stand by the Jayhawks’ defense, and Knowles needed one play to scoot in from the 5 for a touchdown. And after the Jayhawks answered with a 75-yard scoring drive, its defense blew the coverage on Wheeler on a 42-yard touchdown pass.
On the ensuing kickoff, Trevor Wilson was mobbed at the 10-yard line, and another penalty on the return buried the Jayhawks’ offense. On third down, Bryce Cabeldue was called for holding in the end zone to give the Wildcats’ safety.
After the free kick, the Wildcats cruised to the end zone again for a 23-7 lead after one quarter.
“Special teams created some big plays,” Leipold said, “and we just couldn’t get the key drive when we needed to.”
The game soon turned into a track meet: the Jayhawks marched through a suddenly driving rainstorm for two quick touchdowns around another score by the Wildcats, leaving them with a 30-21 advantage heading into the break.
Another major mistake by the Jayhawks in the third quarter — a fumble by Torry Locklin — gave the Wildcats another short field, and Vaughn carried eight times on a nine-play drive before finding the end zone and putting the game out of reach.
“It wasn’t easy, and I knew it wouldn’t be. It was wet out there, affected things a little bit, but in all three phases, someone stepped up,” Klieman said. “We were able to rush the football later on — we ran it a bunch in the third and fourth quarter — and we got stops on defense when we needed stops.”
The Jayhawks have built a reputation under Leipold for playing mistake-free football, yet it was a multitude of errors on both sides of the ball that gave the Wildcats more opportunities than they needed to hold onto the Governor’s Cup.
The Wildcats have struggled defensively the past two weeks, giving up 31 points to West Virginia before coughing up plenty of yards against the Jayhawks. Joe Klanderman’s bunch will need to do better against the Horned Frogs.
The Wildcats have a week to prepare for the Horned Frogs while the Jayhawks await its bowl destination.