LAWRENCE — Bradley McDougald could feel it, the moment of release and redemption just a few minutes away. The field goal had just sailed through, giving Kansas a three-point lead. Two minutes and 28 seconds was all that stood between the Jayhawks and a historic upset of Texas.
It was right about this time that McDougald looked over to the student section.
“There’s a sign,” McDougald said, “that says, ‘We Still Believe.’ ”
And then, it all collapsed — again. Texas staged a final touchdown drive, stealing a 21-17 victory and leaving a homecoming crowd shell-shocked on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
After he stripped off his pads and swallowed hard, McDougald retraced the decisive plays from Texas’ final drive. There was the opening play, when Texas’ backup quarterback Case McCoy, summoned to replace an ineffective David Ash, threw a pass right toward KU cornerback Greg Brown. He dropped it.
“I should’ve caught it,” Brown said.
There was the fourth-and-6 play, when McCoy found a receiver over the middle for 16 yards. And there was the pass two plays later when cornerback Tyler Patmon bit on a double-move and McCoy threw a 39-yard completion to Mike Davis with 1:16 left.
From then on, it was a goal-line stand for the game. The Jayhawks could have burned their timeouts in the final minute, saving 25 or30 seconds for an improbable final drive. But KU coach Charlie Weis said afterward that he wanted to give his defense a chance to make a stop in the flow of the game.
“We make a stand, we’re all partying right now,” Weis said. “Just didn’t work out the way I planned it.”
Moments later, with 12 seconds left, Texas completed the comeback on a short touchdown pass to D.J. Grant.
“Devastating,” McDougald said.
When McDougald returned to the locker room, the tears began to flow. And he couldn’t shake the feeling.
“The feeling,” McDougald said. “The feeling of being there. At first, we didn’t finish games. Then it was not starting strong. I feel like we’ve done all that. Now it’s just time to go win.”
From a cold-hearted numbers perspective, Saturday’s game is just another loss. The Jayhawks dropped to 1-7 overall and 0-5 in the Big 12. And McDougald can count through the Big 12 setbacks — now 17 straight in all, dating back two calendar years and three seasons.
It’s a familiar routine. Kansas loses. Often it’s a blowout. Sometimes it’s not. But a loss, nonetheless. And then somebody sticks a microphone in your face and asks what you can learn from this. Maybe it gets tiring doing so much learning. Or maybe KU players just felt like they squandered a perfect opportunity.
“The only thing you really can take from it,” McDougald said, “… is just the feeling of having the game and then watching it slip through your fingers.”
“We should have won,” said freshman quarterback Michael Cummings, who finished 3 for 9 passing for 39 yards while KU leaned heavily on its running game. “That’s how we feel. We should have won.”
For most of the first quarter, the Jayhawks hardly looked like a team capable of beating Texas for the first time since 1938. There were bobbled kickoffs, botched snaps, penalties, and a first and goal that turned into fourth and 29.
And yet, when the dust settled. The Longhorns still led just 7-0 after one quarter. And Kansas came alive after Sims busted loose on a 64-yard run in the opening minutes of the first quarter.
Sims finished with 28 carries for 176 yards, becoming the first KU back to rush for 100 yards in four straight games since Tony Sands in 1991. In all, KU gashed Texas for 234 rushing yards and didn’t attempt a pass during the second or third quarters. Last year, KU rushed for minus-2 yards in a 43-0 loss at Texas.
All the running turned into a 14-7 lead — KU’s first over Texas since that infamous 2004 loss that ended with Mark Mangino ranting about the BCS and dollar signs.
“It’s so similar to 2004,” Texas coach Mack Brown would say.
The Jayhawks held the lead until Texas tied the score with 9:41 left. With the pressure back on, Cummings engineered a 14-play drive that included a critical third-and-18 completion to tight end Jimmay Mundine. Weis didn’t hesitate to send sophomore kicker Nick Prolago on for a 29-yard field goal — despite the fact Prolago missed a similar kick last week and had never made a field goal at KU.
“We were ready to go with Prolago,” Weis said. “We were doing that.”
The kick set up the final minutes of drama. And concluded with a somber walk back to the locker room. More adversity. More agony. More questions about the hump that has coagulated itself in front of the KU football program.
“Just that feeling,” McDougald said. “You can’t really explain it.
“Every time I just replay it in my mind, it hurts. Just to know you’re a play away.”