Cats Cruise in 12th-Straight Sunflower Showdown Win

Kansas State Wildcats

MANHATTAN, Kan. (K-State Athletics) – Phillip Brooks.

That’s why Chris Klieman called timeout with eight seconds left in the first half, without the football in a game he was winning. In basketball terms, call it a heat check.

In football terms, Klieman called it something else.

“The special teams were the highlight of the day,” he said. “[Phillip] is a talented guy who understands blocking and understands angles. Sets things up so well. We work a ton on our punt return and I’m so happy we were able to benefit from all the hard work and effort that we put into it.”

Brooks set a K-State record with 189 punt-return yards and brought back two first half punts for touchdowns as No. 19 K-State (4-1) demolished Kansas (0-5) in a 55-14 win.

“The punt return team was blocking well today. They gave me confidence,” Brooks said. “This is Special Teams U and with our history of great returners, I felt like I needed to contribute.”

The victory keeps the Governor’s Cup in Manhattan for the 12th year in a row and continues the longest winning streak by either team in the 118-year history of the Dillons Sunflower Showdown. 

The Wildcats scored 21 points on defense and special teams in the win over Kansas, and now lead the nation with 122 non-offensive touchdowns over the last two decades.

It was the first one on Saturday that set the tone for the afternoon, as Brooks housed a 55-yard punt return to get the Wildcats on the board against Kansas.

Receiving the ball at midfield, Brooks dashed into Jayhawk territory before a crushing block from Brock Monty cleared the way for the second punt return touchdown of his career.

Brooks finished his freshman season with 120 punt return yards and a touchdown.

Against Kansas, he would surpass that by halftime.

“One of my boys, Wykeen Gill, came over, congratulated me and told me what happened. I didn’t even notice,” Brooks said. “I didn’t know I set the record. I was locked in on offense just looking at schemes.”

Before Brooks put the finishing touches on some history, Justin Gardner stepped up with the play of the game for the K-State defense.

In the second quarter, Gardner read a screen pass from Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels to grab his second interception of the season. He could have walked into the end zone, as Gardner gave K-State their second game in a row with a pick six.

With the final seconds ticking away in the first half and the Wildcats up 28-7, the defense came up with a stop and forced the Jayhawks to punt.

That’s when Klieman called timeout and Brooks called game.

The sophomore’s 52-yard punt return came with 0:00 on the clock in the first half – it was touchdown or bust.

“I told Phillip, ‘There are seven seconds left, you can’t get tackled. You’ve got to score.’ Sure enough, we did a great job,” Klieman said. “Some blocks downfield, made one guy miss and that was a huge momentum boost going into halftime.”

Brooks finished the afternoon with 189 yards as a punt returner against the Jayhawks, which would make him the nation’s leading team in punt return yards this season.

Not the leading player. The leading team.

“After the first return, they were still kicking it to me,” Brooks said. “I was like, ‘OK, they’re just going to keep giving us opportunities.’ We took advantage.”

After special teams and defense gave the Wildcats some breathing room against Kansas, the offense put the Jayhawks away in the second half.

“We challenged them. I didn’t feel like we played very well in the first half offensively. Couldn’t get into a rhythm and a lot of things weren’t going our way,” Klieman said. “Talked to the staff, talked to the players and we just needed to play the game. I was really pleased with the way the offense responded in the third quarter.”

Will Howard finished the second start of his college career with 243 yards on 17-of-24 passing.

Howard found Sammy Wheeler and Briley Moore for a pair of passing touchdowns on Saturday, the first game with multiple touchdowns through the air for the Pennsylvania native.

“With the kids from Kansas on this team and the passion they brought, Coach Klieman let them talk in the meeting on Monday and let them lead us out of the tunnel,” Howard said. “I didn’t grow up a K-State or a KU fan. I don’t really understand the rivalry. But I’m a K-Stater now and I understand that. I was doing it for those guys.”

With K-State in command on Saturday, Howard didn’t throw an interception and got the ball to his playmakers.

Deuce Vaughn continued his historic freshman season with 152 all-purpose yards as he led the Wildcats in rushing and receiving yards on the afternoon.

“It was surreal,” Vaughn said. “All week, we talked about doing it for these Kansas boys that were maybe overlooked by Kansas or shoved to the side… It was fantastic to be out there and play with my boys in the Sunflower Showdown.”

He finished off the game with a one-yard touchdown, breaking ankles on the way to the endzone.

Harry Trotter added his third rushing touchdown of the season and put the finishing touchdowns on a 55-point day for the Wildcats, the highest scoring game of the Chris Klieman era in Manhattan.

Saturday’s game was also the most lopsided edition of the Sunflower Showdown in a decade, since K-State took down the Jayhawks 59-7 in 2010.

“This is a big game for us,” Klieman said. “A big game for our kids from Kansas and Missouri. To be able to dominate the football game like we did, I’m really pleased.”

The Wildcats will hit the road for their next Big 12 matchup, traveling to Morgantown for another 11 a.m. kickoff against West Virginia on Saturday.

No. 19 K-State will return to Bill Snyder Family Stadium on November 7 when they face off with No. 6 Oklahoma State.

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