Kansas State win seals a spot in Big 12 title game

Sunday, November 23, 2003

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Darren Sproles' last 10 carries went for just 24 yards. By then, though, the damage to Missouri's Big 12 North title aspirations was done.

Sproles ran for a school-record 273 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 19 Kansas State clinched the division championship with a 24-14 victory over the Tigers on Saturday night.

Sproles, a junior who has run for 1,713 yards this season, also became Kansas State's career all-purpose yards leader and broke the school single-season rushing record for the second straight year. Those records fell on his first carry, an 18-yard gain on Kansas State's first snap.

He capped that drive with a 5-yard TD run for a 7-0 lead, then added a 7-yard run early in the second quarter to make it 14-0. By halftime, he had 186 yards on 23 carries -- to just 99 total first-half yards for Missouri.

"I was just in the zone tonight," he said. "I was feeling it."

Sproles, who also set a school record with 43 carries, broke the single-game record of 252 yards set by Mike Lawrence against Iowa State in 1996. With two receptions for 12 yards, he outgained the entire Missouri team 285-264.

He didn't save the ball from any of his record-breaking runs, though.

"I don't care about all that," he said. "As long as we got a victory, I'm fine."

The Tigers (7-4, 3-4 Big 12) went 0-4 in conference road games this season. They could have won a share of the division championship and earned a spot in the title game by beating Kansas State and closing the regular season next week with a win over Iowa State.

Instead, Kansas State (10-3, 6-2) won its sixth straight after a three-game midseason losing streak and will meet No. 1 Oklahoma on Dec. 6 in Kansas City, Mo.

"It's a great sense of accomplishment, coming back from that 0-2 start"in conference play, defensive end Andrew Shull said. "We fought back and pulled together as a team. Nobody pointed fingers, and the guys just came in and corrected their mistakes."

The Wildcats extended their winning streak against the Tigers to 11 games.

"It was our first chance at a championship," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Obviously, we have a way to go."

Missouri's first touchdown drive covered just 2 yards, on Brad Smith's pass to DeQuincy Howard that cut Kansas State's lead to 14-7 with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first half.

That TD, Missouri's first against the Wildcats since 2000, came one play after linebacker Brandon Barnes recovered quarterback Ell Roberson's fumble. It was the Tigers' first score of any kind against Kansas State since a field goal in the second quarter of the Wildcats' 24-3 win in 2001.

That was one of the few highlights for Smith, the versatile sophomore who is trying to become the first player in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in consecutive seasons.

The Wildcats sacked him four times and held him to 16 yards rushing on 26 carries. He was 14-for-28 passing for 155 yards but threw a costly interception in the third quarter with Kansas State leading 21-7.

After Nino Williams intercepted Roberson's pass on the Wildcats' opening drive, Zack Abron's 5-yard run gave Missouri a first down on Kansas State's 12. But two plays later, cornerback Louis Lavender -- making his first start since being benched in the fourth game of the season -- stepped in front of Darius Outlaw for the interception in the end zone.

"I got some e-mails from fans that were very encouraging, and a few from some that weren't," said Lavender, a junior-college transfer who lost his starting job after giving up a long TD pass against Massachusetts. "The one I remember most was, 'Take your (rear) back to juco.'

"That kind of made me mad," Lavender said. "It feels good to play well when people are doubting you."

Kansas State capitalized on the interception with Joe Rheem's 40-yard field goal into a stiff north wind for a 24-7 lead late in the third.

"They did what anybody does to a quarterback," Smith said. "They try to make you move out of the pocket so you can't get a clear shot downfield. They did a great job of that."

Abron's 37-yard TD run with 3:18 left in the game got the Tigers within 24-14, but Kansas State's Jesse Tetuan recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Tigers' 43 and the Wildcats ran out the clock.

Abron, who needed 83 yards to become Missouri's leading career rusher, finished with 71 on nine carries.

Roberson made up for his fumble in the closing seconds of the first half, scoring on a 1-yard keeper to put the Wildcats up 21-7.

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