Before Saturday, Jack Cantele had never attempted a game-winning kick.
He grew up playing golf, sinking pressure putts at high school tournaments. But none of that compared to what he faced in the final moments of Kansas State’s 33-31 victory over TCU at Snyder Family Stadium.
With seconds remaining in a wild, back-and-forth game, a sellout crowd focused solely on him. If Cantele, who switched to football midway through high school, connected on a 41-yard field goal, the Wildcats would win their fourth straight and become bowl eligible. If he missed, K-State would go down in a hard defeat.
TCU led by one, thanks to a clutch 56-yard field goal of its own from Jaden Oberkrom with 2:13 to go. Now it was Cantele’s turn to answer.
“It went right down the middle,” said Cantele, a sophomore. “That was probably the best kick of my life.”
Cantele said he knew the kick was good the moment the ball left his foot, and it took the fans sitting in the south end zone only a few seconds to realize the same. Everyone cheered, and the Wildcats got so carried away they got penalized for unnecessary celebration.
“I didn’t realize I had four field goals in that game,” Cantele said. “All I can remember is that last one.”
Three seconds remained on the clock, and TCU, 4-7 in the Big 12 and 2-6 in the Big 12, still technically had a shot at a miracle finish, but no one seemed to care.
“I am proud of them,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said, “and the fact that they came back and won the back-and-forth ballgame. I certainly am awfully proud of Cantele.”
This was a big moment for Cantele. But it was even bigger for K-State.
Before Saturday, the Wildcats, 6-4 and 4-3, hadn’t won a close game. K-State’s previous five victories all came in blowout fashion.
“When they scored on the other end I just felt a certain sense of confidence that we didn’t have at the beginning part of the season,” junior quarterback Jake Waters said. “ “... But we have taken that next step as a team.”
The Wildcats took that step by driving to the TCU 24 in the final 2 minutes. They started the drive on their own 32, and Snyder turned to Waters, who threw for 234 yards and two TDs, to lead the offense. He looked shaky on his first play but then hit Curry Sexton over the middle for a 28-yard gain.
Then he found Tyler Lockett for 12 yards, and K-State was in field-goal range. The next few plays were intense, with a negative run from Waters and a false-start penalty that dropped the Cats back to the edge of Cantele’s range. But Waters hit Lockett for 8 yards on third down, and the stage was set for the game-winning field goal.
Lockett, Sexton and Tramaine Thompson were, perhaps, K-State’s biggest playmakers. Though Daniel Sams rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown, Lockett caught eight passes for 123 yards and a touchdowns while Thompson grabbed two balls for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Lockett’s effort was made more impressive by the fact that he caught a 74-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter while going against Jason Verrett, the Big 12’s top cornerback. On the play, Lockett beat Verrett with a stop-and-go route. Verrett jumped in front of him as he faked the stop, and Lockett ended up wide open downfield.
Amazingly, it wasn’t the most explosive play of the game. Thompson benefited from broken coverage and slipped past TCU defenders for a 79-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter.
But as good as those plays were, nothing was as big as Cantele’s field goal.