Bill Snyder needed a coin flip to decide his starting quarterback Saturday, handing the ball to junior college transfer Jake Waters for the Purple squad’s first series.
And if Saturday’s showing is any indication of what’s to come, the Kansas State coach might need another flip of the coin this fall to chose his starting quarterback. It’s a good problem to have, as the Wildcats try to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein.
Waters didn’t disappoint, and neither did sophomore Daniel Sams, who started for the White squad, but later traded quarters with Waters and the No. 1 unit the rest of the day.
The purple squad — behind Waters and Sams — racked up 76 points and 855 yards of total offense, including 640 in the air, in front of more than 16,000 fans at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Though the scoreboard had the White squad winning 41-38 after Snyder flipped the Purple’s 38-0 halftime lead, Saturday’s annual spring game was all about the two signal callers trying to replace Klein.
“I saw some very positive things with both of them,” Snyder said. “We saw some issues that we have to be aware of during the course of the spring. I thought we have a little bit of athletic ability — I think you knew that all along. We threw the ball with more consistency than we have during the course of the spring, but it was pretty basic as far as the defense is concerned.
“What I was pleased with, as much as anything, is that the quarterbacks called their own ballgame and we didn’t have any clock management issues… They were making decisions and getting players in and out of the huddle.”
Sams, who is considered by many to be the better runner of the two, completed 20 of 31 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns with one interception in combined duty for both teams. He also rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, albeit limited because of the two-hand touch format used to tackle the QBs.
“I showed I could sling it a little bit,” Sams said. “I feel like I still have some stuff to work on — I made some bad throws, underthrew some receivers and missed a couple touchdowns. But overall, I feel like as a team, we all did well. So, from here, all we can do is grow.”
Waters, who arrived on campus this spring from Iowa Western, was a combined 16-of-22 passing for 257 yards and three touchdowns — also rushing six times for 31 yards and a 7-yard score in the first quarter.
“Being out there for the first time in front of the crowd, in a game-type atmosphere, I thought it went pretty well,” said Waters, who set a NJCAA record last season by completing 73.3 percent of his passes with just three interceptions. “I had some mistakes, some calls that I would like to have back. But for the most part, we came out and competed, and that’s all we can ask for.”
In addition to Waters’ first-quarter rushing touchdown, he also connected with Tramaine Thompson for a 35-yard score to put the Purple up 14-0. Thompson finished with six receptions for 161 yards and a pair of TDs.
Then it was Sams’ turn to see what he could do with the No. 1s, as he too wasted no time getting into the end zone, starting with a 55-yard pass to Torrell Miller, followed by a 21-yard strike to Thompson to make it 28-0. Sams made it 35-0 on a 10-yard scamper to the end zone, diving to reach the corner pylon with 3:28 to go before halftime.
The Purple capped its first-half scoring with a 24-yard field goal from Jack Cantele, who would later add a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter for the White team for its only points on the day.
“This is the best day he’s had during the course of the spring,” Snyder said of his freshman kicker. “I was proud of him because he did it with a few people in the stands. He hit that 51-yarder, which he really hasn’t done, and to do it under that circumstance… I told him he could keep his scholarship.”
Waters, who was last season’s NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year, went back to work to start the third quarter, needing only 13 seconds to get the Purple team back in the end zone with a 76-yard bomb to Tyler Lockett down the far sideline. Lockett finished with a staggering 231 yards and two TDs on nine receptions.
“I just asked Lockett if he was warm and ready to go, so I just called the play — he’s got some serious speed — I just threw it up and let him go get it,” Waters said.
“With (Lockett), sometimes it is,” he said.
Just four minutes later, the Purple was back in the end zone after Waters hooked up with fullback Glenn Gronkowski for an 8-yard shovel pass with 9:44 to go in the third quarter.
Though Robert Rose finished with 141 yards on 17 carries, his only touchdown of the afternoon came three minutes into the fourth quarter with Sams back under center — a 4-yard score to make it 60 unanswered points for the Purple squad. Rose handled the bulk of the carries Saturday because senior John Hubert was held out of the game due to a minor injury.
Lockett added his second touchdown of the day with 11:47 to play in the game when Sams found him for a 38-yard score that he tipped four times before finally hauling the pass in on his back in the end zone.
“I was just as shocked as everyone else,” Lockett said of his wild catch. “I’m still trying to figure out how the ball went in front of me to behind me.”
Sams’ fourth touchdown — a 3-yard pass to Miller — was sandwiched around Cantele’s long field goal for the White team, making it 76-3 — or 41-38 depending on how you were counting.