LAWRENCE — Charlie Weis went to midfield to remind his players to remove their helmets while singing the alma mater when he suddenly found himself engulfed by hundreds of celebrating students who had rushed the field.
He shook hands, accepted back slaps, smiled and posed for pictures.
“Actually, it was kind of nice,” Weis said.
Weis, already soaked from an ice-water bath, then made his way to the locker room and a group of students bee-lined to the goal post in the south end zone and brought it down. That provided the final punctuation Saturday of Kansas’ 31-19 triumph over West Virginia that soothed plenty of pain in the program.
The victory ended Kansas’ 27-game Big 12 football losing streak, two defeats shy of the league record set by Baylor more than a decade ago. It was Weis’ first Big 12 win in 16 attempts, and the first for any player in the program who wasn’t around in 2010, when the Jayhawks defeated Colorado on the same Memorial Stadium turf for their last conference victory.
The locker room scene will probably find its way to the school’s website soon, but defensive end Kevin Young offered a sneak peak.
“It was a big party in there,” Young said. “A lot of cheering and chanting, a lot of high emotions flying in there.”
Young compared the postgame sensation to being “a little kid on Christmas morning,” but the holiday comes once a year. Kansas waited several for this moment, and it happened with a new starting quarterback and on the strength of a tweaked offensive philosophy that helped pave the way for a monster game from running back James Sims.
The quarterback, Montell Cozart, is a freshman who was calling plays for Bishop Miege High last year. A month ago, he saw his first action against Oklahoma and his playing time steadily increased. On Monday, Cozart was informed that he, and not Jake Heaps, would be the starter.
“Earlier in the week I was nervous,” Cozart said. “As the week progressed I got more and more comfortable.”
The game plan was particularly comforting. Kansas (3-7, 1-6 Big 12) spent the week studying Baylor’s victory over West Virginia. In that game, the Bears scored 10 touchdowns and rolled up 872 total yards.
“Everything was stolen from Baylor,” Jayhawks center Gavin Howard said. “If we line up in these same formations and we get these same defenses they’re playing, why can’t we do the same thing? It was basically spread it out as wide as we could go.”
The Jayhawks sent their wide receivers close to the sidelines and, along with the offensive line’s best blocking day of the season, opened lanes for Sims, who ran for 211 yards.
He piled up 131 in the second quarter, mostly on runs of 62 and 68 yards. The first big rush set up his 3-yard touchdown run that gave Kansas a 10-7 lead.
The second big gain was a back-breaker for the Mountaineers.
Kansas had taken over at its 32 with 39 seconds left in the half. The Jayhawks were all but guaranteed to take a lead into halftime for the first time since their opening game. On the first play, Sims took a pitch left, cut back to the middle and was virtually untouched to the end zone.
“I looked up at the JumboTron and didn’t see anybody behind me,” Sims said.
The half got even better when West Virginia parlayed a couple of big plays into field-goal range. Josh Lambert lined up a 42-yarder, but Kebe Agostinho crashed through and got a hand on it.
“That was a bigger play than most would even remember,” Weis said.
Kansas had all the momentum at halftime, and it gained even more early in the third quarter when linebacker/end Ben Goodman put his hands up to block a Paul Millard pass and the ball stuck. Fifty-four yards later, Millard pushed Goodman out at the 14, and Sims would soon add his third touchdown.
“I don’t even remember what call we were in,” Goodman said. “I just remember the ball being in my hands.”
In the fourth quarter, Ben Heeney got a pick of his own, returning it 28 yards to the 1, setting up the Jayhawks’ final score.
All that was left was to play this one out, a position Kansas has so often found itself on the other side. West Virginia, which dropped to 4-7 and will miss a bowl for the first time in 11 seasons, punched in two late touchdowns, but the Jayhawks were so comfortably ahead it didn’t matter.
Finally, Kansas found itself in victory formation with 28 seconds remaining, and the students started making their way to the lower bleachers. The clock reached :00 and over the wall and across the track they came. Goodman had never seen anything like it.
“Taking the goal post down, I never even imagined that could happen,” Goodman said. “That was crazy.”