Just when it looked like a disappointing season was headed for a new low, Kansas State pulled off an unlikely comeback against Iowa State that will go down as one of the wildest endings of the year.
The Wildcats defeated the Cyclones 38-35 after trailing 35-14 at halftime and 35-28 with 91 seconds remaining. Iowa State had the ball, and K-State had one timeout. The game was effectively over.
All the Cyclones, 3-8, 2-6 Big 12, had to do was take care of business. A first down would give them a win. Or they could take a knee three times and punt, forcing the Wildcats, 4-6, 1-6, to drive the length of the field in a short amount of time to force a tie. Fans fled for the exits at Snyder Family Stadium and some K-State players admitted they lost hope.
They needed incredible fortune to avoid a seventh straight loss. And they took advantage when it arrived, matching the largest comeback victory in school history.
Iowa State fumbled twice in the final moments, allowing Charles Jones to score a game-tying touchdown with 42 seconds remaining and Jack Cantele to kick a game-winning field goal with 3 seconds left.
“That is the craziest football game I have been part of, by far,” K-State receiver Kody Cook said. “I have been playing football since fifth grade. I have won on a Hail-Mary pass and we did all kinds of crazy stuff in high school, but nothing like that.”
It was definitely bizarre.
K-State defensive tackle Will Geary opened the door for a comeback when he forced a fumble by Iowa State running back Mike Warren on the opening play of a drive the Cyclones hoped would be their last. Linebacker Elijah Lee wound up with the loose ball, and the Wildcats suddenly had renewed life at midfield.
“We didn’t know if they were taking a knee or running a play,” Geary said. “But I just stayed in my gap and made a play. The ball showed up and I pulled it out.”
Joe Hubener responded by completing a 42-yard pass to Andre Davis, and K-State scored three plays later, with 42 seconds left on the clock, tying the score 35-35.
Iowa State went for the win on its next drive, but fumbled again on the second play. This time, K-State defensive end Marquel Bryant forced quarterback Joel Lanning to fumble and Charmeachealle Moore pounced on the loose ball at the Iowa State 22 with 10 seconds left.
K-State ran the ball to the center of the field for a field goal and called timeout. Then Cantele won the game.
A wild celebration followed.
“They enjoyed the daylights out of it,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “I told them in the locker room I have been here for a couple hundred years and I have never seen our locker room (that wild). No offense to anybody we play, but under the circumstances a lot of times we always say act like you have been there before, and we didn’t act like we had been there before.
“But they needed that, so it was good they were excited.”
Added Cook: “It was like we won the Super Bowl.”
Such hyperbole can be forgiven. Not only did K-State appear doomed in the closing moments Saturday, it seemed headed to the same result it has experienced six times over the past two months.
The Wildcats lost heartbreakers to Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU. They fought back against Texas and Texas Tech, but lost in the fourth quarter both times.
They needed to win their final three games to qualify for a bowl. It was the final motivation they could fight toward. It was surprising to see Iowa State dominate the first half, given that it had nothing to play for.
But K-State fought back. Now, it is two wins away bowl eligibility. It can finish .500 with victories against Kansas and West Virginia.
“We finally got some balls rolling our way, some calls going our way,” said fullback Glenn Gronkowski, who threw a touchdown pass on a trick play. “It’s been a year of disappointment so far. To finally get a win will give us great momentum moving forward.”
The season could end positively if K-State continues to play the way it did in the second half Saturday. After a nightmarish opening two quarters, the Wildcats shut out the Cyclones and moved the ball effectively with their running game.
They were most impressive creating turnovers. K-State jumped on four fumbles and forced eight.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads struggled to explain why he risked running late against a defense that proved it could strip the ball.
“The decision was based on being able to run out the clock and never having to punt the football,” Rhoads said. “You take a knee on that play and they are going to call a timeout. It is going to come down to a fourth-down play where you have to punt the football. We operate off of a chart in a situation like that. We were just over the time on the chart.”
The game came down to which team could finish.
K-State shook off a season of missed opportunities and claimed a victory it badly needed.
“To get over the hump and get off our losing streak and get a win in the Big 12 was so huge for us,” Cook said. “We have been so close for so long against great teams. To finally finish one is indescribable. It gives you incredible confidence.”
KANSAS STATE 38, IOWA STATE 35
TableStyle: SP-byperiodsCCI Template: SP-byperiods
ISU: Ryen 21 pass from Lanning (Netten kick), 9:36.
KSU: Dimel 4 pass from Gronkowski (Cantele kick), 4:50.
ISU: Lanning 1 run (Netten kick), 12:21.
ISU: Al.Lazard 30 pass from Lanning (Netten kick), 8:11.
KSU: Burns 100 kickoff return (Cantele kick), 7:59.
ISU: Warren 76 run (Netten kick), 7:34.
ISU: Al.Lazard 16 pass from Lanning (Netten kick), :29.
KSU: Jones 8 run (Cantele kick), 8:49.
KSU: Cook 7 pass from Hubener (Cantele kick), 13:13.
KSU: Jones 5 run (Cantele kick), :42.
KSU: FG Cantele 42, :03.
TableStyle: SP-footballstatsCCI Template: SP-footballstats
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Iowa St., Warren 22-195, Lanning 21-43, Jo.Thomas 1-0. Kansas St., Hubener 20-90, Jones 15-65, Gronkowski 1-5, Silmon 3-5, Cook 1-3, Team 1-(minus 3).
PASSING: Iowa St., Lanning 15-20-0-210. Kansas St., Hubener 18-31-0-216, Gronkowski 1-2-0-4.
RECEIVING: Iowa St., Al.Lazard 5-87, Wesley 4-30, Ryen 3-36, Bundrage 2-32, Epps 1-10, Jo.Thomas 0-15. Kansas St., Cook 5-68, D.Heath 5-31, Jones 4-28, Burton 2-31, A.Davis 1-42, Gronkowski 1-16, Dimel 1-4.
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett