Three thousand, two hundred and eighty-three days had passed since Kansas football last had a moment like this, so forgive coach David Beaty for counting down the seconds at this point.
“That (clock) wouldn’t wind down fast enough,” Beaty said. “I mean, it really wouldn’t.”
In the end, the clock hit zeroes.
The game — and KU’s historic streak of ineptitude away from home — was finally history.
KU routed Central Michigan 31-7 on Saturday at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Mich., snapping a major college football-record 46-game true road losing streak that dated back nearly nine years. The Jayhawks hadn’t won on the road since a 34-7 victory over UTEP on Sept. 12, 2009, a time that predates Uber, Instagram and Snapchat.
Then a wide receivers coach, Beaty was on the KU sideline for that victory. KU has fired three head coaches in the years since, and now in his fourth year, Beaty had started his tenure 0-16 on the road.
“Really happy for that locker room,” said Beaty, his voice quivering. “Man, some great individual plays today. Proud a lot of those guys.”
Jogging off the field Saturday, Beaty made a moment for a fan — a super-fan, really. He embraced mega donor Dana Anderson, whose last name is on the football facility Beaty works inside every day.
“Seeing Dana over there, I mean, he was in tears,” Beaty said. “There’s a real passion he has for this university, and he shows it. He actually does a lot of things for this university, and it’s not easy stuff. He works his tail off for this university and does so much. For him, it really is important.”
Beaty said his first thoughts after the victory went to his family, but up next were the KU supporters like Anderson who have endured the nearly nine years of futility.
“You know, we really tried very, very hard not to ever think of those things,” Beaty said of the losing streak. “I know it sounds cliché-ish, but we only focused on the things we can control, right. ... We felt like we had to really get that thing over for our fans and for our stakeholders, for the university and for all the people that came before us. That was extremely important for us. And now that it is over, certainly the ones that use it against us in recruiting, it might be difficult for them to do so, particularly if we keep it up.”
A true freshman and a fifth-year senior provided the biggest boosts in a lineup full of heroes for KU.
Pooka Williams, a four-star recruit playing his first college contest after being withheld from last week’s 26-23 overtime loss to Nicholls State for what KU (1-1) called a nondisciplinary issue, dropped jaws. He rushed 14 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns, including electrifying 20- and 41-yard scampers in the third quarter that pushed the Jayhawk advantage to 21-0.
Beaty said he wasn’t certain until “late, late” Friday night that the 5-foot-10 speedster would be available.
“We knew he was an exciting talent, there’s no doubt about it,” Beaty said of Williams. “He’s a lot stronger, I think, than people think, a lot more elusive. He’s got a gear that is pretty special. He runs really hard and he loves the game.
“For a guy that really, it was up in the air until the very end this week whether he was playing, and he still prepared each day like he was playing. That’s the thing I love about him. For a young guy, he was very, very professional in his approach. He’s a guy we feel like can really help us moving forward.”
Standout senior linebacker Joe Dineen provided the magic on the other side of the ball, racking up 14 tackles and hauling in one of four second-half interceptions for the Jayhawk defense. Dineen provided the pressure on CMU (1-1) quarterback Tony Poljan that led to a pick-six interception from teammate Shakial Taylor, which made the margin 28-7 early in the fourth quarter.
The pick was the first of Dineen’s decorated career.
“I was so excited I caught it that I tripped, so I didn’t really see anything but the grass when my face went down,” Dineen said. “But yeah, it was my first career interception, so I was pretty excited about that.
“That’s why I tripped. If I get another one I’m going to crib it, so we’ll see.”
Smiling for his entire jog off the field with the game ball cradled in his right arm, Dineen clearly relished the victory, as did fellow senior Daniel Wise and the Jayhawks’ other upperclassmen. Beaty said he knew by Monday’s practice that the team would be OK despite the season-opening defeat to the FCS opponent Nicholls, a credit to his team’s veteran leadership, he said.
“Unfortunately they’ve been through a lot, but fortunately they’ve been through a lot,” Beaty said. “And man, I think I’ve said it before, man, there’s times when they lift us up.”
Dineen said he’ll most remember the postgame locker room and the look on Beaty’s face — “It’s just pure happiness, and it’s something that we’ve been striving for here for a long time,” Dineen said.
“I’m excited to be on the team that broke (the streak) for sure,” Dineen said. “What was it, ’09 I think? That’s crazy. It’s a long time coming. I’m real excited for our team and real excited for our fans. It’s a big-time win.”
There was one other person Beaty had on the brain in the immediate aftermath of the streak’s merciful end: first-year athletic director Jeff Long, whose ongoing evaluation of the football program will ultimately decide the coach’s future at KU.
“Just getting him off to a good start there, not having to have (the streak) as something Jeff has to deal with moving forward,” Beaty said. “I think of our coaches, I think of our players and I think of our community, because those are things they continue to have to kind of see every day or see when we go on the road and now they don’t have to see it on the road, right. But it’s up to us to keep that streak going on the road, too.”