LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — When Nicholls’ Damion Jeanpiere’s muffed punt attempt led to Kansas taking the lead late in the fourth quarter Saturday night, it seemed as though the Colonels’ resilient upset attempt could go to waste.
But then, using just nine plays, they marched down the field and forced overtime with a game-tying 43-yard field goal. In overtime, Chase Fourcade ran in a 4-yard touchdown, and the Colonels prevailed over the Jayhawks, 26-23, in both teams’ season opener.
“Big win for the football program, for the school, for the whole community,” Nicholls coach Tim Rebowe said. “I told the guys, I’m always proud of them, but I’ve never been more proud of them than tonight, how they came in and fought. It’s a group of guys who believe.”
Viewed as Kansas’ easiest opponent of the season, Nicholls came into an optimism-filled David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium and spoiled the Jayhawks’ home opener in a game few expected them to win.
The Colonels, of course, belong to that few.
“None of our players thought, ‘Well, since we’re playing an FBS team, we don’t have a chance to win,'” Fourcade said. “I feel like everybody on this team, we’ve always got that confidence and that mentality that we can win every game.”
After the Nicholls defense held Kansas to just a field goal on the first possession, Fourcade capitalized, leading a five-play touchdown drive aided by a pass interference call. He finished with just 142 yards passing and no scores in the air, but rushed for 51 yards and the late touchdown.
“I’m just really happy for this school, this team,” Fourcade said. “We’ve been through a lot . it’s been a real big turnaround for this program. We’re just really excited about our first win.”
Texas A&M transfer Kendall Bussey added 123 yards rushing and a score out of the backfield, and Dontrel Taylor punched in a touchdown as well.
The Colonels got the ball rolling early, marching down the field for an impressive nine-play, 78-yard touchdown drive on their first possession. It wasn’t anything unheard of, but to come out of the gates with a commanding scoring drive certainly set the tone for the rest of the game that Nicholls was here to play.
Kansas’ offense had some success early as Peyton Bender found Steven Sims for a touchdown on the second drive to cap an efficient effort that included two nice runs for first downs. But then Sims dropped an easy score in the end zone next time out, and Kansas had to settle for a field goal.
Bender finished 19-of-35 passing for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Kerr Johnson, Jr. led the Jayhawks in receiving, hauling in three catches for 54 yards and the go-ahead score late off the arm of Bender.
“At times I thought he did really, really well,” Kansas coach David Beaty said of his quarterback. “There were some times tonight where I think he kind of got locked on a little bit and he held the ball a little bit longer . but he showed some flashes tonight.”
It was a struggle for Nicholls to string together much early in the second half, stalling on their first two drives. They finally broke through, though, when Bussey blew through the line to find nothing but green in front of him en route to a 40-yard touchdown run.
“Nobody was there, so that’s what I saw,” Bussey said. “I saw daylight, I saw the end zone, and I’m thinking just get to the end zone as fast as I can.”
DUAL QUARTERBACK DEBUT
Bender played almost every snap, but as Beaty announced earlier in the week, Miles Kendrick also saw some time under center. He led one series that resulted in a punt early in the second quarter, and had one rushing attempt in overtime for negative yards.
“We’re certainly going to continue to use Miles,” Beaty said. “Certainly going to continue to use him, find more ways to get him in the game.”
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
When Bussey was asked what the trip back down to Louisiana was going to be like, the three Colonels present at the press conference all burst into excited laughter.
“A lot of noise,” Bussey grinned. “A lot of noise. I’m tired, so I hope they calm down because I’m gonna want to go to sleep.”
Kansas falls to an FCS school in what was expected to be its least-challenging game of the season – not a good start to a make-or-break season for coach David Beaty.
“I’ll tell you this: The sun is going to come up tomorrow, and this team is going to continue to work toward the goals that they have set,” Beaty said, when asked to evaluate where the program stands big picture-wise.
Nicholls grabs a statement victory over the Big 12-trained Kansas, a promising sign for what looks to be a promising season.
Kansas travels to Central Michigan on Saturday for its only non-conference road game. The Jayhawks haven’t won a game on the road since Sept. 9, 2009.
Nicholls heads to nearby Tulane for another road test on Saturday.