LAWRENCE, Kan. — Kansas is used to great comebacks.
Take the 2008 NCAA basketball title game in which the Jayhawks rallied from nine points down in the final two minutes to beat Memphis in overtime.
But in football? Simple victories have been scarce, much less miracle comebacks.
That changed Saturday when the Jayhawks scored 35 unanswered points in the final 11:05 and overcame a 28-point deficit to beat Colorado 52-45. It was the greatest comeback in Kansas history.
“I’m still in shock,” said Johnathan Wilson, who caught a 38-yard touchdown pass with 9:26 left to cut the Buffaloes’ lead to 14 points after Kansas recovered an onside kick. “The Colorado guys were talking trash to us … and I really had no response. All of a sudden we started making plays and playing our game and they shut up real quick. As soon as I scored that touchdown, I felt like we were going to come back and win.”
The 35 points in the fourth quarter were the most in Jayhawks history.
James Sims scored four touchdowns, all in the final 19 minutes, including the game-winner of 28 yards with 52 seconds left. He finished with 123 yards on 20 carries.
“I don’t want to have to be in that situation again, having to come back like that,” Sims said. “We figured once we got the onside kick and brought it down and scored and the defense got that pick, we felt like we were in the game.”
Linebacker Steven Johnson said first-year Kansas coach Turner Gill had a prophetic message at halftime with the Buffaloes up 35-10.
“He said, ’You all need to come out here and get ready for the best comeback ever,”’ Johnson said.
After Wilson’s TD reception, Kansas cornerback Tyler Patmon spearheaded the next two touchdowns. He returned a fumble 28 yards for a touchdown with 7:12 left to trim the lead to 45-38. Patmon intercepted a Cody Hawkins pass with 6:29 left, which set up the tying touchdown, a Sims’ 6-yard run with 4:30 left.
Kansas (3-6, 1-4 Big 12) snapped an 11-game conference losing streak, while Colorado (3-6, 0-5) lost its fifth straight.
“We thought the game was over (at halftime),” said Colorado running back Rodney Stewart, who rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries. “We thought they were going to give up, but they never did. When the coach brought us over and told us we needed to pull it together is when we started to get it in our heads that we could lose.”
Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said he told his team to relax in the fourth quarter.
“We’re up by 14, we’re the team that’s ahead and we’ve got the momentum, so we’re still in control here,” Hawkins said.
But not for long.
After Sims’ go-ahead touchdown, the Buffaloes drove to the Kansas 7 in the final seconds. But two Hawkins passes into the end zone were incomplete.
“I think this is by far the worst I’ve felt after a game,” Cody Hawkins said. “You think you have it in the bag and all of a sudden the bag rips open and everything starts going against you. It’s tough.”
It looked like Colorado would win easily. The Buffaloes jumped out to a 35-10 halftime lead with Hawkins completing 20 of 24 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns and Stewart rushing for 117 yards.
Hawkins threw touchdown passes of 62 and 4 yards to Paul Richardson, and added another of 12 yards to freshman tight end DaVaug Thornton — his first career reception — with 3 seconds left in the half. The 62-yard drive was aided by two Jayhawks penalties of 30 yards for pass interference and a personal foul.
Stewart also scored on a 1-yard run with 2:05 left in the half to cap a 51-yard drive in which he accounted for 50 yards on the ground, putting the Buffaloes up 28-3.
“I don’t think I’ve been this upset ever about a game,” said Scotty McKnight, who has caught a pass in a Colorado-record 45 consecutive games. “I don’t know, maybe guys got complacent. I don’t understand why we can when we have three wins coming into it. It’s just tough. There’s no way we should have lost that football game. We basically just shut down.”
The Jayhawks scored their only first-half touchdown with 49 seconds left on a 19-yard pass from Quinn Mecham to D.J. Beshears to cap an eight-play, 80-yard drive. Mecham completed 23 of 28 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions.
“We’re going to continue to move on a little bit and yell and scream and continue to celebrate,” Gill said. “This is a great win for our program.”