By Dave Skretta
The Associated Press
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just when it appeared as if Kansas State coach Bill Snyder was settling on one quarterback, Jake Waters came back with gusto on Saturday.
So did the Wildcats, for that matter.
Waters completed 10 of 13 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-12 rout of West Virginia that gave the defending Big 12 champions their first conference win of the year. Waters also ran for 55 yards in proving that you can never quite count him out.
“I am proud of him,” Snyder said. “When things do not go your way that is what you are supposed to do. We are all supposed to do that. That is what life is all about. I think it will be meaningful and beneficial to him. It will benefit him 20 years from now.”
It certainly benefited the Wildcats (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday.
Waters, a record-setting junior college transfer, began the season as the clear starter, but he had struggled throughout the start of conference play. His confidence appeared to be shaken as he tried to run a modified version of the option-style offense that Snyder tends to favor.
Meanwhile, run-first quarterback Daniel Sams seemed to seize control of the starting job, gaining nearly 200 yards on the ground in a competitive loss to Baylor.
An electrifying ability to elude defenders in the open field also made him a fan favorite.
It’s not as if Sams did anything to hurt his chances of playing against the Mountaineers, either. He was 8 for 8 for 93 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for 16 yards.
But whenever Waters was in the game Saturday, the offense seemed to be humming.
“The whole second half we played well as a team, when we got that kind of time from the offensive line,” Waters said. “When we have our wide receivers getting open, John (Hubert) running the ball and Daniel coming in to run the ball, it really opens up our offense tremendously.”
Hubert had 86 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
It was the kind of comprehensive offensive performance that the Wildcats have struggled to put together this season. Waters and Sams combined were 18 of 21 for 291 yards with four TDs and no interceptions, and the team piled up 157 yards of rushing offense.
They were at their best in the second half, too. The Mountaineers actually led 9-7 at the half, but Kansas State outscored them 28-3 after the break.
“Jake and Daniel were really throwing the heck out of the ball,” wide receiver Curry Sexton said. “Jake got in there the third and fourth quarter and started spinning the ball and putting the ball in spots where we could catch it and we really had no choice but to catch it.”
Part of the reason the offense got in synch — and the pass-first Waters was able to put up big numbers — was the return of top wide receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. Both had been dealing with injuries, and both of them contributed against West Virginia.
Lockett caught eight passes for 111 yards and three scores — two from Waters and the one from Sams. Thompson had three catches for 53 yards and Waters’ other touchdown pass.
“A lot of times when you sit out you get to see how much exactly you missed the game,” Lockett said. “You just want to come back stronger and I think that at the end of the day, even at the beginning of the day, the biggest thing we wanted to get out of this was a win. Fortunately, things began to happen and we got out of there with a win.”
It couldn’t come at a better time, either.
After winning just its second Big 12 title last season, the Wildcats had dropped their first three conference games in frustrating fashion, squandering second-half leads in two of them.
By beating the Mountaineers, the Wildcats suddenly have bowl aspirations again. They face struggling Iowa State next Saturday, and still have TCU and Kansas on the schedule.
They also emerged from the Big 12 cellar, leaving the Jayhawks and Cyclones alone at 0-4.
“It’s been a long time since we all got a win,” Lockett said. “It was very great to be able to celebrate it like that, and I think that as long as we remember exactly what we did between Monday and Friday, I think we could do a lot of good things.”