Fans stormed the field. A goal post was torn down and ended up getting tossed in a nearby lake.
And running back James Sims and his Kansas teammates partied in the locker room like they haven’t in a long, long time.
“It was wild,” Sims said. “Guys jumping up and down, whooping and hollering. It was a good feeling.”
The celebration in the Jayhawks’ home victory last Saturday was of a caliber expected from championship teams or stunning upsets of top-ranked foes. Nope, this was a 31-19 victory over a West Virginia team that dropped to 4-7.
This was just win No. 3 for a squad that won’t play in a bowl game for the fifth straight year. But that didn’t make this victory any less special. Finally, after years of futility, KU had broken its 27-game losing streak against Big 12 foes.
The day was unforgettable for Sims in more than a few ways. He rushed for a career-best 211 yards and three touchdowns to blow the game open. And his senior class, a group that has toiled through coaching changes and four losing seasons, finally made a good memory they won’t soon forget.
“It’s difficult, don’t get me wrong,” Sims said. “It’s difficult to prepare week in and week out and end up on the losing side. It was difficult for us, but we didn’t give up at all. We just saw it through and we got a win.”
During his career, Kansas has won nine games and lost 37. He was recruited by Mark Mangino but played for Turner Gill and Charlie Weis. Like his fellow seniors, he didn’t know this is what he was signing up for.
But he’s tried to make the best of a tough situation, and no Big 12 running back has rushed for more yards than Sims’ 3,396 yards since the start of 2010. All along, he’s believed this program can get back to its Orange Bowl heyday with a lot of hard work and development.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to show the underclassmen,” Sims said. “If you put in hard work when things aren’t going your way, eventually it’ll turn around and go your way. Don’t give up. Keep working hard like we did.”
They now have a chance to make a few more memories before they’re done. The Jayhawks travel to Iowa State with another streak in their crosshairs: 23.
That’s how many road games in a row Kansas has lost. The last victory came on Sept. 12, 2009, a 34-7 win at UTEP. Back then, Sims was still in high school.
There’s no better time to get one than now, against an ISU team that’s now 1-9. Sims doesn’t know how to explain why his team can’t win on the road. They just keep coming up short and not making enough plays.
We know we can compete with the best of the best. ... Most of our games, we’ve just been playing them for 30 minutes and not really coming out focused in the second half to finish it.
”-- Kansas RB James Sims
The win over West Virginia has instilled some newfound confidence. The senior running back doesn’t think Kansas is that far off from getting things turned around.
“We know we can compete with the best of the best,” Sims said. “We always come out the first half and it’s always a good game, a good half of football. But football is played 60 minutes. Most of our games, we’ve just been playing them for 30 minutes and not really coming out focused in the second half to finish it.”
Weis indulged in the celebration on Saturday but brought his team "back to Earth" on Sunday. No need to get big-headed off one elusive victory. He needs his players to turn this milestone into something more.
"Now my sarcasm will be at an all-time high here today, because anything they do wrong, I can already hear me now: 'Oh, you win one game and all of a sudden that's the way it's going to be?'" Weis said Monday. "I've sent texts to the team about taking this and running with it vs. being complacent. ... Let's take this and run with it. Let's turn this into a positive. Let's not turn this into being satisfied with finally winning a game."
After the trip to Iowa State comes a showdown with a Kansas State team that’s as hot as any in the conference. That’s senior day for Sims and seven fellow starters.
They’ve made a resolution for finishing out the season: Treat every game left like a bowl game. Make these games matter. Fight for a happy ending.
Sims has two games left in his Jayhawk career, and there’s nothing he’d like more than to give this program a glimmer of hope and a dose of momentum for next season.
“It would be good to finish up this season strong with these wins and for the underclassmen to go into the offseason with something to build on, with the burden off their chest and knowing we can compete in this conference now,” Sims said. “We see what we can do now when we put together four quarters."