LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas had one last chance to win in front of the hometown crowd. Coach Charlie Weis even offered students free tickets to fill the stands and honor the seniors.
By halftime, however, the stands had emptied and Kansas was headed for a 51-23 senior night loss to Iowa State.
"It just hurts to go out that way for our last time in Memorial Stadium," said senior safety Bradley McDougald.
Kansas started the game with two defensive stands and held an early lead, but Iowa State scored four straight touchdowns in the second quarter to put the game out of reach.
The Jayhawks also lost three fumbles and an interception. Iowa State converted three of these turnovers into scores.
"When you turn the ball over the volume of times we did on offense, it doesn't give you a chance to win," Weis said.
This was the latest blow in a 10-game losing streak for the Jayhawks and a 20-game string of conference losses that dates back more than two years.
The seniors began their Kansas careers with 5-0 record, but lost the next seven straight and fell out of bowl contention. It took them the next four years to win six more games. They also endured three coaching changes in that time.
"I think sports definitely helps you shape yourself as a human being at an early age," said senior wide receiver Kale Pick. "A lot of 19- and 20-year-old kids don't face the kind of adversity we have. I think it's helped get us ready for life in the real world, for life after football."
Even adding to Kansas' embarrassment was the fact they were beaten by a virtually unknown quarterback.
Sam Richardson, who hadn't even attempted a pass all year, threw for four touchdowns in leading the rout.
The first thing he did when he got back into the locker room was text his parents.
"I was just waiting for my opportunity," said the redshirt freshman. "I have been all year. It is a great feeling to know that I could go in and make plays for the offense and get us going."
Richardson also scored a touchdown for the Cyclones (6-5 overall, 3-5 Big 12) and was not far short of perfection. He led his team to touchdowns on four straight possessions while taking a 38-17 lead. Virtually overlooked all year in the Cyclones' jumbled quarterback picture, Richardson was 23 for 27 and spread his completions around to 12 different receivers. Six different Cyclones scored touchdowns as the Jayhawks (1-10, 0-8) lost their 20th consecutive Big 12 game.
"I knew he could do it," said center Tom Farniok. "It was just a matter of was he gonna, and he did."
The Cyclones' season high had been 38 points and they had that at the half, leading 38-17.
Kansas' final home game sent a bedraggled class of seniors out on the same sort of sour note which has characterized their entire collegiate careers.
The fourth- and fifth-year seniors came aboard just as the Mark Mangino-coached Jayhawks were winning two straight bowl games for the first time in school history. The long-struggling program seemed headed for the heights. But after starting the 2009 season 5-0, the Jayhawks lost their next seven and now, counting this lopsided loss to Iowa State, have dropped a stunning 36 of 42 games under three head coaches.
"Went through three head coaches," said wide receiver Kale Pick. "I went through five position coaches. Some other guys did, too. But I'm proud of the class I'm in. We worked hard to try to prove to each coaching staff what we could do."
Kansas will need to win at West Virginia in its season finale on Dec. 1 to avoid its worst season since the 1988 Jayhawks finished 1-10.
It's also a bitter entry into the Big 12 for Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who announced at midweek that he would pay the $3 charge for anyone who wanted to buy a student ticket and come to the game. Officials said it would be several days to know how many took him up on his offer. But it appeared only a few hundred did.
Weis admitted he didn't plan for Richardson.
"He wasn't even listed in the two-deep. So, no, I didn't give much thought to it and maybe I should have," he said. "But when the guy comes out there, regardless of who it is — 23 for 27? Four incompletions on the night? Four touchdown passes? Did the kid have a good day? Absolutely. You have to give the kid credit. But he wasn't somebody who was on the top of my head all day who would be playing on offense"
Richardson replaced starter Steele Jantz on Iowa State's third possession and immediately engineered a 10-play, 89-yard drive connecting, with Josh Lenz for 30 yards and setting up Jeff Woody's 11-yard touchdown run for a 10-7 lead. Lenz also had a 14-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
Tony Pierson rushed for 89 yards for Kansas, including a 55-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and caught a 37-yard scoring pass from Dayne Crist in the fourth. But after his 55-yard score, Iowa State answered immediately with Richardson's 11-yard scoring pass to Albert Gary.
Durrell Givens recovered James Sims' fumble on the Jayhawks' next possession, and five plays later Richardson connected with a wide-open Aaron Horne on a 30-yard scoring play, making it 24-14.
The lead went to 31-14 a few minutes later when Richardson, following Woody's 43-yard run, dived over from the 1.
A 20-yard pass to Ernst Brun, capping a six-play, 57-yard drive, completed the second-quarter blitz and put Iowa State on top 38-14. Edwin Arceo kicked three field goals for the Cyclones, including a 51-yarder in the third quarter.
"It's right up there on the best debuts I have seen," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said of Richardson. "To be here two years and really only get a mop-up role, he probably felt like he was not part of true competition. But his performance was not a surprise coming from the young man."