Alex Delton celebrated like never before following Kansas State’s 21-17 victory Sunflower Showdown victory over Kansas on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
He pumped his fists. He yelled. Then he ran circles around teammates as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
This felt like more than a battle of struggling teams to the junior quarterback who grew up in Hays. It might have been his favorite moment in a K-State uniform.
“It just meant a lot from a lot of aspects, more than the in-state rivalry,” Delton said. “It’s been a tough year. We haven’t, at times, played to our potential. We haven’t done things that we know we can do, and things haven’t fallen our way to some extent. It’s just good to finally get a win under our belt and enjoy it.”
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This was an important win for the Wildcats (4-6, 2-5 Big 12). Not only did it keep their bowl hopes alive, it extended their winning streak over the Jayhawks to 10. Losing this game, to a team that hadn’t won a road conference game since 2008 and recently fired its coach, would have made an already disappointing season much worse.
But they escaped with a confidence-boosting victory. And Delton was a big reason why.
K-State entered this game with considerable uncertainty at quarterback. Usual starter Skylar Thompson was unable to play while recovering from a head injury he suffered last week against TCU, and Delton is far from 100 percent. With nagging injuries mounting for him, there was genuine concern Bill Snyder might have to turn to freshman John Holcombe or seldom-used Hunter Hall against the Jayhawks.
Delton was too tough for that, though.
He played through a noticeable limp and completed 11 of 17 passes for 126 yards while also rushing for 55 yards and a touchdown. Best of all, he engineered a fourth-quarter comeback when his team needed him most.
“My thoughts have never changed about Alex,” Snyder said afterward. “He is a young guy that genuinely cares. He is extremely competitive and he is going to battle you until the bitter end. He is one of those guys who gets into every snap. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Here’s how he earned that respect from his head coach and won the game:
The Wildcats got the ball at their own 40 with 5:02 remaining following a bizarre sequence of penalties and a punt from the Jayhawks. KU led 17-14, and this was probably K-State’s final opportunity to mount a comeback.
Running back Alex Barnes moved the chains initially thanks to a gutsy run on fourth down, then Delton found Dalton Schoen for 28 yards down the left sideline, then he found the end zone on a 21-yard keeper.
K-State managed just 59 yards during a scoreless first half, and its offense seemed lost much of the afternoon. In the grand scheme of things, it was alarming to see the Wildcats struggle for so long against an opponent with a susceptible defense.
Still, the Wildcats scored when they had to.
“We knew it was kind of now or never,” Schoen said. “We knew we had to put it in the end zone right then.”
K-State’s offense found most of its success in the second half after Delton got involved as a runner. It was fitting that he won the game on the ground.
“It was a designed quarterback run, a play we have run thousands of times since I’ve been here,” Delton said. “The guys up front did a great job. Barnes did a great job lead blocking for me and, to be honest, I just did the easy part. We have a bunch of reps on that play. It is one of our bread-and-butter plays and I felt good running it. All I had to do was take it in.”
His teammates think he was being modest.
This season hasn’t been easy for Delton, but he persevered on this day.
“He goes from starting at the beginning of the season to kind of getting injured to taking a couple weeks off and thinking Skylar was going to ride this thing out,” right tackle Dalton Risner said. “Then he gets thrown in there last week. He’s the dad out there among 10 other men, and he does a good job of owning that. He has grown up so much. I am really proud of him.”