MANHATTAN — There were less than 10 seconds left in the first half, and Kansas State coach Chris Klieman had a simple message for Phillip Brooks.
Essentially what he said was no do-overs.
The Wildcats were coming for Kansas punter Donovan Gagen, but a penalty on the Jayhawks betrayed their intentions, so they looked instead to Brooks, who already had one punt return touchdown in the game.
"They had an illegal procedure, but we came, so they saw the block," Klieman said. "And so then we changed it and said, let's flip it to a return and I told Phillip, 'There's seven seconds left. You can't get tackled. You've got to score.'
"And sure enough, we did a great job of holding people up at the line and then (got) some blocks downfield — made one guy miss. That was a huge momentum boos going into halftime."
Brooks' 52-yard return as time expired in the half was just part of a dominating effort by the Wildcats, who also had a defensive touchdown and got their stagnant offense rolling in the second half of a dominating 55-14 victory over Kansas. In so doing, they ran their winning streak in the Sunflower Showdown to 12 while improving to 4-1 overall and 4-0 in the big 12.
Even with the offense struggling in the first half, Brooks' second touchdown put the Wildcats up 34-7 at the break. Brooks also accounted for the game's first score with a 55-yarder in the first quarter and set up a field goal on a 40-yard return in the second.
"The coaches were saying that we're going to try and return it," Brooks said of his second touchdown, which made him the first player in school history to take two punt returns to the house in the same game. "I looked at coach Klieman and he said we're going to get it protected, so we need to score this.
"The punt return team unit blocked it well today and they gave me the confidence going into it and just made plays today."
Brooks, a sophomore from Lee's Summit, Missouri, who also had a 42-yard return in the second half, finished with four for a school-record 189 yards in the game.
"We always talk (about), you have to get the return started, and typically that's blocking the edge guys and outside guys and preventing them from getting a fair catch," Klieman said. "So when he's getting it with five, seven, eight yards of space, he's a talented young man that understand blocking and understands angles, and sets things up so well.
"We work a ton at our punt return, so I'm so happy that we were able to benefit from all the hard work and effort we put into it. But (Brooks) is a special guy and the guys know it. When he gets a chance and the ball's in his hands, anything can happen."
With true freshman quarterback Will Howard still getting his feet wet since taking over for injured starter Skylar Thompson, the special teams and defense did their part to relieve the pressure. Cornerback Justin Gardner had a 24-yard interception return in the second quarter that put the Wildcats up 20-0.
"Having a guy like (Brooks) that makes plays like that, that makes my job easy," said Howard, who had an impressive second half, completing 17 of 24 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters of work. "Our offense didn't produce a lot of points in that first half, but a pick-six and two punt returns, that's big time.
"That definitely gives a team a lot of energy, and he played amazing."
Brooks delivered K-State's first touchdown with 9:22 left in the first quarter when he fielded a punt at his 45-yard line, broke to his left and ran untouched into the end zone.
"The first one was definitely a walk-in," Brooks said. "It was man-on-man, and everybody was just moving guys and it just felt easy to just walk in, basically.
"The second one, still great blocking, hat on hat. They gave me the confidence — the punt return team — to execute that."
The two punt return touchdowns — they also recovered a muffed KU punt return — made up for the fact that the Wildcats failed to block a kick for the first time this season. They blocked punts in each of the first three games, then knocked down a field goal try two weeks ago at TCU.
"I thought the special teams were the highlight of the day," Klieman said.