In the closing seconds of a 32-28 victory over Iowa State, Jake Waters turned toward his family and emphatically pumped his fist. Then he screamed and kicked his feet and pumped his fist some more.
Waters, Kansas State’s senior quarterback, was celebrating a come-from-behind win Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium — a victory Waters will cherish.
For Waters, a native of Council Bluffs, Iowa, this was his first and only opportunity to play major-college football in his home state.
It might have been his finest K-State game. He has certainly never been more clutch.
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Waters rushed for a career-high 138 yards and two touchdowns, while also throwing for 239 yards. He led K-State on two crucial touchdown drives in the fourth quarter that allowed the Wildcats to survive their first road game despite trailing 28-13 late in the second quarter.
“Another side of me came out,” Waters said. “I really haven’t shown it a lot, but I wanted it so bad.”
His motivation was obvious. Waters played in front of a large group of supporters — more than 30 friends and family crammed into the front of K-State’s cheering section — and he did so against a team that never seriously recruited him even though he grew up rooting for the Cyclones.
Afterward, Waters said he was willing to do whatever it took to win. He showed that by leaving the pocket and rushing 20 times, the same number of carries K-State running backs Charles Jones and DeMarcus Robinson had combined. And he averaged 6.9 yards.
Waters is best known as a passer, and his rapport with Tyler Lockett was on display, as Lockett caught six passes for 136 yards. But when Iowa State assigned multiple defensive backs to Lockett, Waters channeled former K-State quarterback Collin Klein and carried the Wildcats with his legs.
“I have never really ran that much in a college game, but, hey, I am going to do whatever it takes,” Waters said. “I told the coaches if I need to run every play, it doesn’t matter.”
That’s the price of leading a comeback against Iowa State.
“He was running the heck out of the ball. I told him in the locker room after the game, ‘Who is that guy out there running around that last drive?’” said K-State wide receiver Curry Sexton. “We have seen Jake run and we know he can run, but he looked like a different dude out there. He said, ‘I don’t know where I’m sore right now, but tomorrow I am going to be hurting.’”
Victory seemed improbable for K-State as halftime approached. Though the Wildcats opened the game with three straight scoring drives and took a 13-0 lead, they were manhandled for much of the first half.
Iowa State playmaker Jarvis West got the Cyclones in the game with a 17-yard touchdown catch with 13 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Then he returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown. After that, he threw a 29-yard pass to Allen Lazard for a touchdown on a successful trick play. Throw in a short touchdown run from DeVondrick Nealy, and Iowa State was on top 28-13.
In front of a sellout crowd of 54,800, the Cyclones were in full control.
The Wildcats were flagged 10 times for 77 yards, and linebackers were routinely out of position. Jonathan Truman’s play on a touchdown drive in the second quarter summed things up best when he missed two tackles and committed a facemask penalty. Cornerback Morgan Burns was also called for pass interference in the end zone.
Those flaws forced K-State to fight until the end despite gaining 471 yards in 70 plays, while Iowa State managed 319 yards on the same number of snaps.
“I’ve got a tape recorder and two (memory) cards full of mistakes,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “We would have been here until midnight trying to sort through all of it. We have a lot of mistakes to correct. The good thing is, if you can win when you make those kinds of mistakes, and there are some attitude things, that may serve in your favor.”
K-State showed its character shortly before halftime, when Waters led the offense on an 84-yard touchdown drive in 1 minute, 4 seconds to make the score 28-20 at the break.
That momentum boost carried over into the second half. That was most noticeable on defense. After allowing 28 points in less than 15 minutes, K-State didn’t allow Iowa State to enter the red zone again.
“We weren’t freaking out,” defensive end Ryan Mueller said. “We weren’t panicking by any means. The message was just keep your focus. It’s a new half, a new ballgame. It doesn’t matter what you did in the first half, it’s how you finish. We just kept a level head. The tougher team was going to win, and we were just a little bit tougher in the fourth quarter.”
K-State’s defense had to be at its best, because Iowa State’s defense played well in the third quarter, too. Neither team scored.
The Cyclones, 0-2, 0-1 Big 12, made the Wildcats, 2-0, 1-0, work for their yards all afternoon, stuffing Waters on a sneak attempt on a fourth down and holding firm on a two-point conversion attempt once K-State pulled within 28-26.
Two defenders were most responsible for giving Waters a shot at a comeback — defensive back Randall Evans and Mueller. Evans was huge in the secondary, making eight tackles, breaking up a pass late and making an improbable interception of Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson. On the pick, Evans got tangled up with West and stripped the ball away from him in midair. The play was made near midfield with 11:35 remaining.
Jones scored on a 4-yard run four plays later.
“I was just trying to make a play for our offense, giving them great field position,” Evans said. “I just took it from him. … It was a big third-down play, and we were down. We were trying to do whatever it takes to get a win.”
Mueller made a pair of tackles for loss when K-State needed them most.
Then Waters got the ball with 3:01 left on the clock and took K-State 80 yards in 1:31, scoring on an 8-yard keeper.
“You saw his leadership,” Lockett said of Waters. “He took it to another level today. If he continues to play like that we are going to have a lot of success.”