Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis discusses the Jayhawks' victory Saturday against Central Michigan. Though KU scored a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, the home team didn't get back into the end zone until the fourth quarter — just in time to break a tie game and win ...
A slugfest turned into a rocking celebration in the Kansas University locker room near Memorial Stadium, where the Jayhawks knocked off Central Michigan, 24-10, Saturday in front of a crowd of 34,822.
Kick-started by senior Tony Pierson's 74-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, the Jayhawks (2-1) jumped out early, watched Central Michigan (2-2) tie the game at 10 with 6:11 to play in the third and then reclaimed control with a 60-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart to senior wide receiver Justin McCay, both Bishop Miege High grads, both players in dire need of a feel-good moment.
The pass that proved to be the game-winner — later in the fourth, Corey Avery scored on a 30-yard screen pass from Cozart to ice the game — was thrown before McCay ever even came out of his break.
That probably would not have happened a week ago. But a first-half game plan by John Reagan designed to rebuild Cozart's confidence resulted in a 15-of-22 passing performance and allowed the quarterback to feel comfortable enough in the second half to try some throws with a higher degree of difficulty.
There was one to Jimmay Mundine (67 yards on six receptions) for 18 yards that set up a 27-yard Matthew Wyman field goal in the third quarter. And, of course, this one to McCay, which KU coach Charlie Weis called “the turning point in the game.”
As the ball was thrown, McCay finished his route — past the sticks, get the first down, keep the drive alive, was the soundtrack that played in his head — and saw the ball coming his way. He used his 6-foot-2, 210-yard frame to shield CMU defensive back Dennis Nalor from deflecting it and used his strength to throw him off and break free. From that point, there were only a couple of things on McCay's mind.
“Don't get caught from behind, don't go down at the one,” he said.
Cozart, who was hit on the play, actually watched McCay sprint to the game-winning touchdown on the video board in the south end of Memorial Stadium.
“I heard everyone cheering, so I knew it was something good,” said Cozart, who finished 23-of-33 for 226 yards and two touchdowns. “That felt good.”
The huge play was a big moment for McCay, too, a fifth-year senior and former highly touted prospect who transferred to KU from Oklahoma and has had an up-and-down career with the Jayhawks. The biggest thing, McCay said, was the win. Of course. But Weis said McCay's big moment was the continuation of a solid stretch for the senior from Kansas City, Mo.
“It's good for Justin,” Weis said. “Him getting an opportunity to make a big play like that, it's almost like payback for all the hard work he's put in.”
As McCay and his smile ran to the sideline to celebrate his touchdown with the Jayhawks back in front and on their way to victory, the jokes started to filter through his helmet and into his ears.
“'Grandpa scored,' and 'You didn't just block this time,'” McCay said, recalling the barbs from teammates. “Stuff like that. But, if they score, I've got jokes for them too.”
There was nothing funny about the importance of Saturday's victory for Kansas. After a less-than-stellar opener against Southeast Missouri State and a drubbing by Duke a week ago, Kansas was at a bit of a crossroads. You could feel it during the game, as the two teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 10, with KU's season and perhaps more hanging in the balance.
Instead of falling flat, the Jayhawks rose to the challenge and now take just a little more confidence into the start of a nasty Big 12 schedule that opens with Texas next week.
For that, Weis was overjoyed.
“I thought it was a significant improvement (from last week),” he said. “I didn't think we harped on things.... The locker room was as happy a locker room as we've had in a long time.”
Weis said pulling it out with big plays in the fourth quarter not only led to the party but also a sense of relief and accomplishment.
McCay agreed. With a huge smile, of course.
“I saw a lot of guys who were happy for each other,” McCay said. “This is my fifth year playing, and wins are hard to come by. You can't roll the ball out there and there's the game. You gotta compete every play. We wanted to be 2-1 after today and, as a team, we got that goal done.”