By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Will Howard threw two touchdown passes and ran for the go-ahead score, and No. 23 Kansas State took advantage of two special teams blunders by rival Kansas as the Wildcats rallied to beat the Jayhawks 31-27 on Saturday night for their 15th straight win in the Sunflower Showdown.
D.J. Giddens added 102 yards rushing and a score for the reigning Big 12 champions, who kept alive their chances of defending the title in part by turning a blocked extra point into a 2-point return and a muffed punt into the go-ahead TD with 10:22 to go.
The Wildcats (8-3, 6-2, No. 21 CFP) allowed Kansas (7-4, 4-4, No. 25) to march right back down the field, led by former walk-on Cole Ballard under center. But the Jayhawks' drive stalled at the Kansas State 11, and Ballard was picked off in the end zone by Marques Sigle on fourth down to turn the ball over with just more than five minutes left.
Howard and Giddens picked up first downs on the ground to keep the clock running, and Howard hit Philip Brooks on third-and-7 with about two minutes to go — the catch near the sideline stood after a review — to wrap up the victory.
Ballard threw for 162 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Devin Neal, who took direct snaps for much of the game, finished with 138 yards rushing and three touchdowns for the Jayhawks.
The latest edition of the fourth-longest played series in the FBS started off like many of the previous 14: Kansas State hit on a couple of deep throws, then Howard found Ben Sinnott in the back of the end zone for a touchdown just over a minute into the game.
But that all-too-familiar script quickly went in another direction.
Ballard, starting in place of injured Jalon Daniels and Jason Bean, led three long touchdown drives that soaked up the first-half clock and kept the Wildcats' offense off the field. Neal finished the first when he slipped out of VJ Payne's tackle and ran 36 yards, then the second with a nine-yard run, before Ballard hit Lawrence Arnold just before halftime for a 20-16 lead.
The lead should have been larger, but the Jayhawks had an extra point blocked by Nate Matlack. The deflection was caught by receiver-turned-cornerback Keenan Garber, who returned it 91 yards for the 2-point conversion.
Kansas opened the second half with Ballard hitting Mason Fairchild for 59 yards and Neal adding his third TD run two plays later. But the Wildcats answered with a long drive of their own, twice converting on third down, opening a lane for Giddens to get into the end zone, and converting the 2-point try to get within 27-24 heading to the fourth quarter.
That's when the Jayhawks' Trevor Wilson fumbled a punt that he was trying to catch on a dead run. The Wildcats took over near midfield, converted a crucial third down and then opened a lane for Howard for the go-ahead score.
Kansas State found a way to win despite an uneven effort by Howard, too many penalties and a defense that struggled to contain Neal on the ground.
Kansas coach Lance Leipold has said repeatedly that his team needs to play the Wildcats tough to turn the Sunflower Showdown into a rivalry again. The Jayhawks did that despite playing a former walk-on at quarterback.
Kansas State wraps its regular season next Saturday against Iowa State.
Kansas visits Cincinnati next Saturday to finish the regular season.