MANHATTAN — The Kansas State Wildcats had done their best to keep quarterback Alex Delton upright and safe for a half, and it wasn't working.
Not for Delton, and not for the offense, which had been shut out by Kansas for 30 minutes with K-State trailing 3-0.
So in keeping with a tried and true formula for success, the Wildcats took the shackles off Delton after intermission Saturday and the results spoke for themselves: three offensive touchdowns and a 21-17 victory over the Jayhawks in front of 50,000-plus Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Delton, who has been fighting a series of nagging injuries all season, came on in relief last week after starter Skylar Thompson went down early in a 14-13 loss at TCU. After rushing four times for minus-13 yards in the first half against KU, he busted loose for 68 yards on 13 attempts after intermission, including a 21-yarder for the winning touchdown with 2:46 left.
K-State coach Bill Snyder, who had seen Delton get sacked once already in the first half, decided to get proactive.
"We can't be afraid to play," Snyder said. "There are very few (snaps) where the quarterback might not get hit. You could just turn around and hand it off every snap, but that probably wears pretty thin over a period of time. It concerns you, but there's not a whole lot you can do about it."
So he turned Delton loose in concert with running back Alex Barnes, who had been limited to 24 yards on seven carries at halftime. Barnes scored the first two Wildcat touchdowns, on runs of 24 and 2 in the third quarter, and finished with 117 yards on 22 attempts to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
"It was a schematic thing," Barnes said of the quarterback run game. "We noticed that we could do some stuff with some numbers and we had an advantage when we used me as a lead blocker on a couple of plays, a couple of schemes.
"That’s what we ended up going with and it obviously worked for us."
Delton, a 6-foot, 205-pound junior from Hays, fully endorsed the old-school approach.
"I think I only had one or so QB runs in the first half," he said. "It's part of our offense. It's who we are. It's an identity."
As for the physical toll, Delton just shrugged and smiled.
"I don't really talk about injuries," he said. "I've felt better. You've got to be tough. I just feel that's part of my role as the quarterback and leader."
Snyder agreed Delton's toughness never has been an issue.
"He's a young guy that genuinely cares; he's extremely competitive," Snyder said. "He's one of those guys that gets into every single snap. I can't say enough good things about him."
That's why Snyder had no misgivings about giving the ball to Delton in the second half.
"It's something that we didn't get very heavily invested in and needed to," Snyder said of the quarterback run game. "That's kind of the nature of what we do. We can't get too far away from things that we do."
And Delton, who already had missed parts of the season either with injuries or on the bench as a backup, was eager and willing.
"Obviously in the game of football you're going to get beat up and get some bumps and bruises here and there, but I'm playing," he said. "I'm not even thinking about it and obviously I'm able to go.
"That's where my mindset is. Obviously you have to be smart with it, but if I'm able to play, I'm going to play and it's not going to hold me down."
Besides, what better way for a native Kansan to finish up the Sunflower Showdown than by scoring the winning touchdown?
"It's a designed quarterback run," Delton said of the play, which opened up behind the lead blocking of Barnes and left tackle Scott Frantz. "Once I read my blocks, it was a pretty clean run for me. It was a pretty special moment. It's a moment I'll probably remember for a long time."