MANHATTAN - No matter how the rest of this strange, unexpected season turns out for Kansas State, for one day the Wildcats and their fans had it all.
The sun was shining bright Saturday afternoon, a cool breeze reminded everyone it was fall, and the thousands of Nebraska fans who found their way to KSU Stadium sulked out bitterly disappointed.
But no one in purple enjoyed the 45-21 victory more than K-State quarterback Allen Webb. Mercilessly ridiculed after his woeful performance in the loss at Kansas, Webb was forced into the start by Dylan Meier's continued injury problems.
The Wildcats not only won with Webb, they won because of him. He was 14 of 23 for 124 yards and, more importantly, ignited a left-for-dead option running attack with 147 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries.
Not bad for a player K-State coach Bill Snyder assumed wouldn't have the full confidence of his teammates. Snyder said he warned his coaches a week ago that Webb might have to start.
"When that is apparent to our football team," Snyder said he told the coaches, "we're going to have a major issue, perhaps, because of how our players might respond to that."
So Webb's day was the sweetest of personal redemption after his notable disappointments against Fresno State and KU.
"I never lost confidence in myself, not at all, no matter what people said about me," he said. "I knew I could do it."
Combined with Missouri's loss, K-State (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) is only a game back in the Big 12 North.
For Nebraska (4-3, 2-2), getting blown out by a backup quarterback they prepared to play left coach Bill Callahan nearly beside himself.
"It's a tough one to swallow," he said. "It's a tough pill to swallow, guys."
Meier injured his shoulder in the season opener and might have suffered a concussion against Oklahoma two weeks ago. He warmed up Saturday, though his passes tended to flutter. Asked if Meier could have played, Snyder answered, "probably not very well."
It didn't take long for Webb to show he could shine.
He ran for 45 yards on his first four carries, lofted a perfect pass to Darren Sproles out of the backfield for 16 yards and threw a bullet on the run to Yamon Figurs, a 23-yard gain, in the first two series.
He'd already turned a slow-developing draw into a 13-yard touchdown by the time he rolled left and fired a pass into a small window for tight end Brian Casey, who had the touchdown catch roll out of his arms.
No worries. On the next play, Webb just pushed his way eight yards up the middle, his second touchdown run in the game's first 11 minutes.
"When we saw that first score, then the moves he was making after that, we knew he could do it," Figurs said. "We were all excited."
The Wildcats led 14-0, and a sold-out KSU Stadium was rocking.
It was all vintage Ell Roberson when K-State's former quarterback got on a roll late in the last two seasons.
"I called him my big brother," Webb said of Roberson. "He taught me a lot, just as far as running and making big plays."
Nebraska used big plays to get back in the game. A delayed shovel pass to Cory Ross went for 63 yards and was followed by Brandon Jackson plowing through most of K-State's defense for a 20-yard touchdown.
After Webb directed a 14-play drive capped by a one-yard Sproles touchdown, Nebraska answered with a play-action pass that went from Joe Dailey to Terrence Nunn for 55 yards. That set the Cornhuskers up at the KSU 5, and Jackson needed two runs to cut the lead to 21-14.
K-State led 24-14 at halftime, but the Huskers seemed to be right in the game. When they were given a touchdown in the third quarter -- Nebraska's Daniel Bullocks returned a botched snap on a punt 10 yards for the score -- the Huskers trailed by three and had some momentum.
That's when K-State's defense took over. Nebraska had 56 yards on 29 second-half plays. The Huskers' running game, especially an effective toss sweep to the right, couldn't get going. Dailey didn't have it, either, completing only three passes in the game.
For perhaps the first time this season, K-State's defense was physically dominant. Defensive ends Tearrius George and Kevin Huntley were not only constants in the Nebraska backfield, their hits were the type that demanded replays on the video board.
"It was just so great to finish a game well," linebacker Brandon Archer said. "We hadn't been able to do that."
The Wildcats haven't been able to run lately, either. They ranked last in the Big 12, by a good margin, at rushing in conference games. But facing a Nebraska defense that entered second nationally against the run, K-State piled up 294 yards on the ground.
Webb kept exploiting his running lanes, and K-State found an energy source that had been, amazingly, almost forgotten: Sproles.
His 34 yards off a quick option toss matched his rushing total against Oklahoma in one play and set up Webb's one-yard touchdown plunge.
Three series later, Sproles took another quick option 30 yards. He finished with 135 yards, 100 coming in the second half.
Webb cashed in again, this time starting left on the option before totally reversing field and beating Nebraska's Jay Moore and Daniel Bullocks to the end zone.
The nine-yard touchdown made it 38-21. Nebraska couldn't stop K-State's option, and the rout was on.
"We knew coming in Webb was an option quarterback, and they were going to feature the option," Callahan said. "We prepared for it the entirety of the full week. It's nothing we didn't expect, nothing that we didn't work at. We just weren't capable of making the plays."
Finally, the Wildcats could do just that. In snapping a three-game losing streak, they kept their hopes alive for a bowl game and run in the Big 12 North.
Snyder made sure to inform his players after the game that K-State has a track record of finishing strong. During the last five games of the regular season since the Big 12 was started in 1996, K-State is 37-4.
"It sends the message you can keep getting better," Snyder said. "We've been a better football team in the last half than we have in the first half. And hopefully that's what's taking place right now."