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K-State Overcomes Double-Digit Deficit, Wins 15th Straight Sunflower Showdown
By Jared Sleppy
Copyright: MSC Sports
11/18/2023

#21 Kansas State came back from a 27-16 deficit and won at #25 Kansas by a final score of 31-27 in one of the most heavily-contested Sunflower Showdowns in its century-plus history.

The Wildcats opened the game with a 46-yard reception from Jayce Brown and an 18-yard carry by DJ Giddens to get them into the redzone. Three plays later, Will Howard threw a strike on a 3rd & 10 to Ben Sinnott into the endzone from the 11-yard line to put the Cats up 7-0 just 1:16 into the ballgame.

After both teams traded punts, KU was able to make their way down the field with their running game leading the way. Devin Neal broke off a pair of missed tackles and ran one all the way to paydirt from 34-yards away to tie the game 7-7 with 2:05 remaining in the first quarter.

On the first play of the second quarter, KU got a big break when Cole Ballard fumbled the ball in the secondary and the Wildcats were unable to come up with the ball. Instead, it was 27-yard gain.

A couple plays later, Ballard completed his first long pass of the game with a 33-yard completion to Luke Grimm to put the Jayhawks in the redzone for the first time.

Two plays later, KU had their first lead of the game with Neal scoring his second touchdown of the game. This one was on an option to the left side, which would be something the Jayhawks would run often.

It would have been 14-7, but Nate Matlack blocked the PAT and Lawrence-native Keenan Garber returned it into the endzone for two points to make it 13-9 in favor of KU.

On K-State’s next possession, Giddens got some decent-sized runs to set up the Cats deep in KU’s territory. The Wildcats converted a 4th & 3 from the KU 23-yard line thanks to a holding penalty on an incomplete pass to keep the drive alive. Two plays later, Keagan Johnson got his second touchdown of the season to give K-State the lead back 16-13 with 7:26 remaining in the second quarter.

KU was able to put together their third consecutive touchdown drive with this one being a 13-play 75-yard drive that took seven minutes to score with just 26 seconds remaining. Lawrence Arnold was on the receiving end of a five-yard reception in the back of the endzone to make it 20-16 going into the break.

In the first half, KU ran 35 plays compared to K-State’s 24 plays. The Jayhawks dominated the time of possession with KU having the ball for 19:50 compared to 10:10 for K-State.

On the first play of the second half, K-State blew their coverage on a short pass to Mason Fairchild, who took it 59 yards to the K-State six-yard line. Two plays later, and they were in the endzone with Neal scoring on another option play for his third touchdown of the game to make it 27-16 just 1:32 into the third quarter. That continued their touchdown streak to four straight possessions.

On K-State’s next possession, Howard missed a wide-open Giddens streaking down the sideline all alone for what would have been an easy 67-yard touchdown on a 3rd & 3. Instead, it was a three-and-out, and a poor punt set up KU at their own 42-yard line.

K-State almost gift-wrapped the ballgame in the fashion of a pick-six on the Wildcats’ next possession, but it was dropped. Next play, Treshaun Ward broke off a 52-yard run. DJ Giddens would find the endzone a few plays later to make it 27-22. They went for two trying to get within a field goal, and Howard ran it in for the conversion.

It looked like K-State got the momentum swing they needed with Kobe Savage intercepting Ballard to set K-State up at the KU 43-yard line. However, Howard would throw an interception right back to KU with Mello Dotson picking it off at the KU 30-yard line with 3:38 left in the third quarter.

KU got off to a good start after the pick with Neal getting carries of 14 and ten yards, but a holding penalty pushed them back, and they were forced to punt after crossing midfield. The Jayhawks would get it right back, though, after forcing another three-and-out.

It was another poor punt, but it was muffed by Trevor Wilson and recovered by Ty Bowman at the K-State 45-yard line with 13:23 remaining.

Howard was able to hit Brown in stride for a 29-yard gain on a 3rd & 7 to set the Wildcats in prime scoring position. With a 3rd & 1 at the 14-yard line, Howard pulled the ball away from Giddens on a read-option that fooled everyone, and he waltzed into the endzone to give K-State its first lead since late in the second quarter at 31-27 with 10:22 left to go.

KU wouldn’t go down quietly, as they quickly created some chunk plays with a 17-yard carry for Neal, an 18-yard completion to Quentin Skinner and an 18-yard run from Ballard to get them inside the 25-yard line. However, the K-State’s defense bent, but didn’t break as Marques Sigle intercepted the Jayhawks on a 4th & 5 on a play at the K-State 11-yard line with 5:33 remaining.

The Wildcats slowly worked the clock down and moved the ball down the field with three first downs, including the final one with a 3rd & 7 completion to Phillip Brooks for nine yards with 2:11 to go.

It was certainly an ugly win, but an absolute classic. One of the best Sunflower Showdowns in recent memory.

Will Howard showed up when he needed to and finished the day 13-for-24 with 165 yards and two touchdowns with an interception along with his go-ahead rushing touchdown.

DJ Giddens tore it up on the ground with 21 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. Jayce Brown had some monster plays in the passing game and was four yards shy of 100 yards receiving on four catches.

For Kansas, Cole Ballard fought hard all night long, but ultimately came up just short. He went 11-for-16 with 162 yards, a touchdown and two crucial interceptions. Devin Neal lead all ball carriers with 138 yards on the ground on 18 carries for 7.7 yards per tote along with his three touchdowns.

K-State improves to 8-3 and 6-2 in Big 12 play and is still alive for a chance to make the Big 12 Championship game with just one game remaining next Saturday against Iowa State.

As for Kansas, they won’t be able to make it to Arlington this year as they fall to 7-4 on the season and 4-4 in conference play. They finish off the season at Cincinnati next Saturday.


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Hiawatha, KS 66434
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