Keeler: Jayhawks' walk-off win was a long, long time coming
Though not a perfect game, Jayhawks have much to celebrate after last-minute win over Louisiana Tech
By SEAN KEELERFS Kansas City
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Tony Pierson pondered happily.
Last time you've been a part of an ending like this?
Kansas slot back finally said, chuckling, after the
Jayhawks escaped with a 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
"I think it's been like, since high school (that) that I've had a drive like that. So that was kind of my first time experiencing one in a college game."
Basically, it had been a while. For everybody. Kansas won on a last-second, 52-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Matt Wyman -- the first Jayhawk walk-off victory since Scott Webb did it to Iowa State in November 2005.
It was the program's first win over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in 22 tries. It was the first win by three points or fewer since a victory over Northern Illinois on September 10, 2011. In the previous six contracts decided by three or less, the Jayhawks had been 1-5. In their past 11, the record was 3-8.
Cardiac comebacks? That was the domain of someone else, somewhere else, the lucky sods.
"Close games," Pierson sighed, in a tone that sounded as if he was describing the charms of a liver-and-broccoli sundae.
That angst was justified. Twice, Louisiana Tech had the ball within Kansas' 5-yard line in the fourth quarter in potentially game-clinching situations. Twice the Bulldogs had a foot directly above Kansas' throat. Twice, the Bulldogs managed to shoot themselves in that foot instead, fumbling in the end zone for a touchback (thanks, quarterback Ryan Higgins!) and on the Jayhawk 5 while straining for extra yardage (thanks, tailback Kenneth Dixon!).
"I had this conversation with somebody this morning," said coach Charlie Weis, whose men moved to 2-1, doubling their victory total from last year. "I said, 'Are we ever going to get that one particular play?'"
As it turns out, they got two. And to their credit, they took advantage each time -- turning the first opportune Bulldog giveaway into an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that tied the contest at 10-10, and the second into a 60-yard march that culminated in the winning points.
"Basically, we just kept telling each other, 'We need this, we need that,'" said Pierson, who tallied a team-best nine receptions for 82 yards.
"And not having the kind of mindset that we did last year. Like, 'OK, here we go again, it's another loss.' Naw. We got the win here this time."
During those two critical drives, quarterback Jake Heaps, whose afternoon had been largely erratic for three quarters, completed seven of eight throws for 100 yards. A second-down pass to Pierson for a 35-yard gain in the final minute got the hosts into Tech territory, and his screen to Pierson for no gain set the ball up for Wyman on the left hash.
"I was just thinking, 'I do this in practice every day, I can do this,'" said Wyman, one of the most improbable heroes of an improbable afternoon. "You've got to be confident to be a kicker, so that's what was going through my mind. 'I'm going to make this kick.'
"On the sidelines, that's what I was saying. 'I'm going to make this kick. I'm going to drill it.' I always talk myself up before I go out there."
A month ago, Wyman was buried on the depth chart. A year ago, he'd tried out for the squad as a walk-on and didn't make the cut.
This weekend? This weekend, the Michigan native is the King of Mount Oread.
"He got his opportunity," said punter Trevor Pardula, who was arguably the most consistent Kansas performer of the day, averaging 57.6 yards a kick. "And he took advantage of it. That's what it comes down to. They're glad they put him there now."
"Easy money," Pierson said of Wyman.
And to think: Weis famously had his players actually
work on a celebrating-after-a-game-winning-field-goal scenario during preseason camp a year ago, a moment captured on video that wound up going viral. Then he even more famously chastised them for their efforts and made them try it again.
Practice makes perfect, right? That party on the field after time expired Saturday looked awfully crisp, awfully polished.
Polished and bonkers. Seventh-game-of-the-World-Series bonkers.
"Great celebration," Wyman said. "So much fun."
"It felt good," wideout Rodriguez Coleman said.
"I'll tell you what -- that might be the best thing for our team," Weis said. "We've been waiting for one of those times for us to turn the corner. We're hoping that maybe (Saturday) was the day."
It was one one of the prettier endings to one of the uglier contests of the Big 12's weekend dance card. The first half had been a spectacle only a mother could love, and then only from a safe distance: Three field-goal misses, combined, in four attempts between the two schools; Kansas trying to impose its will on fourth in short, only to be turned away twice; the hosts sleepwalking offensively while trailing, 7-3, at the break. The Bulldogs had scouted the Jayhawks' inside run game well. and it showed, as lead back James Sims was limited to just 78 yards on 20 carries and Pierson chipped in 27.
Louisiana Tech was bound and determined: They were going to make the Jayhawks throw the ball to beat them.
They did. And they did.
"We just kept working, down after down," Pierson said. "It just felt like a monkey off our backs."
Joy? Elation? Relief?
"Just exciting," Pierson said. Then he grinned. "Because we haven't had that feeling around here in a long time."
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.