MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Bill Snyder orchestrated a massive turnaround in his first stint at Kansas State's coach, transforming a team with more losses than any other into a national title contender.
After a rough start, his second reclamation project seems to be going well, too.
Daniel Thomas ran for 185 yards and a touchdown, and the Wildcats harassed Todd Reesing into three turnovers to remain in control of the Big 12 North with a 17-10 victory over rival Kansas on Saturday.
Picked to finish at the bottom of the Big 12, Kansas State (6-4, 4-2) has won three straight games against Big 12 North opponents and is 5-0 in the Little Apple since Snyder returned to the stadium that bears his name.
The Wildcats stayed close against Kansas by forcing two fumbles and an interception by Reesing in the first half, then took over in the second behind Thomas' bruising running to end a three-game losing streak to Kansas (5-4, 1-4) in the 107th version of the Sunflower Showdown.
Two games from the finish, Kansas State is inexplicably in position to reach its first Big 12 championship game since 2003.
"It's about trying to build whatever it is you're trying to build, kind of put one stone on top of the other," said Snyder, who is 14-4 against Kansas. "Hopefully, over a period of time, it'll take us where we'd like to be. This is a step."
Reesing had another forgettable game a week after being benched, undone by early turnovers, occasionally wobbly passes and a few drops.
He finished with 241 yards on 27-of-41 passing, most of it on short throws between the 20s. Reesing was only able to get the Jayhawks into the end zone once and Jacob Branstetter missed 30-yard field goals in each half, giving Kansas its first its four-game skid since 2006.
"It goes without saying that when we lose to our rival, it hurts more than losing to someone else," said Reesing, the fifth player in Big 12 history to throw for over 10,000 yards (10,204). "We enjoyed a pretty good stretch there for three years in a row. It's the first time I've had a loss to K-State and that's not what you want."
The Jayhawks might have had a chance if they could have stopped Thomas in the third quarter.
The junior college transfer dashed for 40 yards up the middle to open the first drive of the second half, setting up his 5-yard touchdown run that put the Wildcats up 17-7. Thomas had 105 yards in the quarter, becoming the ninth player in Kansas State history to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season with 1,087
He later helped Kansas State close out the victory, teaming with Grant Gregory to grind out the final 5:20 after Branstetter hit a 46-yard field goal, giving the Wildcats their ninth straight home win over Kansas under Snyder.
"Nobody expected us to be where we are today," Thomas said. "We were picked at the bottom of the Big 12 in every poll, but we knew what kind of team we were. We showed it today."
Reesing was a Heisman Trophy candidate through the first five games, throwing for over 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions.
His season started to come unhinged with a strained groin against Colorado, leading to seven turnovers over the next three games. A three-year starter, Reesing was benched for the first time in the fourth quarter against Texas Tech last week after being sacked six times and failing to move the offense.
It didn't get any better.
Reesing was dropped for a 12-yard loss on Kansas' first drive after Darrell Stuckey returned the opening kickoff 67 yards, then threw a nowhere-near-his-receiver interception inside Kansas State's 10-yard line on the second drive. He closed out the first quarter by doinking a side-armed shovel pass off Toben Opurum's facemask.
Midway through the second quarter, Reesing finally found a rhythm.
Getting cornerback Joshua Moore to bite on a play-action fake, he threw a receiver screen to Dezmon Briscoe, who turned it into a 17-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
The success was shortlived.
Reesing fumbled on the next drive, stripped from behind by Jeffrey Fitzgerald on a scramble inside the Kansas 25. Next drive, same thing: Trying to get extra yards on a scramble, Reesing had the ball jarred loose by a hard hit with 36 seconds left in the half.
Josh Cherry missed a 39-yard field goal after the first fumble, but Reesing and the Jayhawks weren't so fortunate after the second. Gregory hit Lamark Brown on a 31-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats up 10-7.
"He was just playing hard," coach Mark Mangino said of Reesing. "He is a great player. He gives us the best chance to win at that position. He tries hard, he gives you everything he has. I'm not going to be critical of a player who gives his heart and soul to the program."
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