MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) -- No. 12 Kansas State expected a big
game from Darren Sproles against a Division I-AA opponent.
What surprised the Wildcats was that their star runner was
needed in the fourth quarter.
"I wasn't expecting that at all," Sproles said after running
for 221 yards and a touchdown in the Wildcats' 27-13 victory over
Western Kentucky Saturday night.
Not that he was complaining.
"I wanted the ball," said Sproles, the nation's leading rusher
with 1,986 yards last season. "It helped me get into a rhythm."
He was one of the few Kansas State players to find a groove in
the season opener for both teams, though. The Wildcats blew several
first-half scoring opportunities because of fumbles and penalties
and led by just seven points going into the fourth quarter.
"It's evident we have issues," coach Bill Snyder said. "We
were painfully nonproductive in critical aspects of the game."
Sproles' performance was his fourth 200-yard effort in his last
six outings, and he extended his school record with his 20th
After his 32-yard touchdown run for a 17-6 lead in the third
quarter, he needs two more TDs to tie Ell Roberson for the
Wildcats' career record of 40.
"He wears on you, and he's incredible," Western Kentucky coach
David Elson said. "There were times you thought he was down, but
he ended up getting 4 or 5 more yards. He's a legitimate Heisman
Trophy candidate, no doubt about that."
Still, Elson said, that the Wildcats didn't have to pull Sproles
early was a credit to Western Kentucky.
"For them to have to give the ball to him 42 times, that tells
you that they knew they were in a game and they had to keep feeding
their horse," he said. "I thought our kids stepped up and
Dylan Meier, a sophomore making his first start at quarterback
as Roberson's replacement, threw for 183 yards and ran for 60 yards
and one score. He was replaced by Allen Webb midway through a drive
in the fourth quarter, and Webb capped that possession with an
8-yard run for a 27-13 lead with just over 6½ minutes left.
"He was doing fine," Snyder said of Meier. "He got a little
dinged up, and we didn't want to take a chance with him."
Kansas State outgained the Hilltoppers, who won the Division
I-AA championship in 2002, 502 yards to 259. Still, the Wildcats'
14th straight home-opening win was closer than it might have been.
They scored easily on their opening possession, capped by
Meier's 9-yard run midway through the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
But Sproles fumbled at Western Kentucky's 18 on Kansas State's next
drive, and Charles Thompson recovered for the Hilltoppers.
Western Kentucky converted the turnover into Lerron Moore's
13-yard TD run with just over 10½ minutes in the half, cutting the
lead to 7-6. But the Hilltoppers missed the point after and could
not capitalize on a successful onside kick.
"Giving up an onside kick," Snyder said. "That's high school
-- no, that's junior high ball."
Penalties killed another drive for Kansas State later in the
second quarter, taking the Wildcats out of field goal range after
they had reached Western Kentucky's 32.
The Wildcats then had first and goal on the 3-yard line with
more than a minute left in the half -- but fumbled two exchanges and
had to settle for Joe Rheem's 22-yard field goal as time expired
for a 10-6 lead.
"One of them was my fault," said center Mike Johnson, who
moved to that spot after starting at guard last year. "The other
one, I didn't see, but I think he had the ball in his hands, and he
was running with it and got knocked out. I was definitely sweating
quite a bit, and the ball might have gotten a little wet."
After Sproles' TD and Rheem's 19-yard field goal put the
Wildcats up 20-6 in the third quarter, Justin Haddix's 5-yard pass
to Earl Clayton in the closing seconds of the period got the
Hilltoppers within 20-13.
Haddix finished 10-for-21 for 182 yards passing, and Maurice
Perkins had five catches for 126 yards for the Hilltoppers.