A few series into Kansas State’s visit to Iowa State, the Big 12 game had dissolved into a new context.
Not who would win. That seemed obvious from the outset when the Wildcats scored on their first three possessions, and the Cyclones didn’t move the chains on their first two series. No, this became an exercise in foreshadowing, matching up K-State against its next opponent, fire-breathing Auburn a week from Thursday.
But the Wildcats started wobbling, Iowa State surged ahead and the teams engaged in a wonderful battle of wills that endured until the final seconds.
Kansas State emerged with a 32-28 victory that had coach Bill Snyder typically bemoaning the mistakes but also providing a verbal heart pound.
“There was a lot of character involved in how we played the last five minutes of that ballgame,” he said.
I’d stretch it to the final nine minutes and include three plays that turned things in K-State’s favor.
Nickel back Randall Evans made the first. A pass over the middle intended for Jarvis West found the target, but before West and Evans hit the turf, Evans had the ball in his arms for an interception. The Cyclones owned an eight-point lead at the time and were moving at midfield. Score here and K-State might be toast.
Instead, the Wildcats rolled to their first touchdown of the second half to make it 28-26.
After an exchange of punts the Cyclones again found themselves at their 46 with a third-and-1. Iowa State might have been a first down away from the clinch.
But Ryan Mueller, one of the nation’s top defensive ends, shot the gap from the left side and tracked down Aaron Wimberly on the right for a 3-yard loss.
The Wildcats still trailed, and now the offense turned in a special play. Tyler Lockett grasped Jake Waters’ sideline loft, tapped his right toe to the grass just before his left landed out of bounds. Lockett was receiving treatment on his legs while the play was being reviewed in favor of K-State.
Singularly, none of the plays by Evans, Mueller and Lockett changed the game. But together they defined a desired that pulled the Wildcats through when it appeared they would succumb to a team that frankly needed it more they did.
Before a similar Jack Trice Stadium sellout crowd a week ago, Iowa State embarrassed itself in a 20-point loss to North Dakota State. Fans were bewildered. A season-ending injury to the team’s top wide receiver in that game, an offensive lineman quitting during the week had the Cyclones’ season seemingly on the brink after one week.
When their second possession ended 1 yard short of a first down, some fans booed when coach Paul Rhoads didn’t keep his offense on the field. Never mind the ball was placed on the Iowa State 35. The moment smacked of desperation to some.
A few moments later came the spark in the form of the aforementioned West. The fifth-year senior turned in a career in a half, catching a pass for the Cyclones’ first touchdown, returning a punt 82 yards for the second and throwing a touchdown pass all before halftime.
A double team, a box-and-one, an intentional walk, nothing would have worked on West while he was in the zone. He was going to win this thing and make fans forget about last week by himself.
But the Cyclones left too much time on the clock and allowed Kansas State to skate to a pre-halftime touchdown. The score didn’t give the Wildcats momentum out of the break, but it slowed Iowa State, which didn’t play with the same spark and spent the second trying to stiff arm a K-State comeback.
Meanwhile, Evans cracked open the door. Mueller kicked it open a bit more and Lockett with Waters pushed the team through.
The day was especially satisfying to Waters, the Iowan whose dad attended Iowa State. Waters started scrounging up tickets from teammates after last week’s game and wound up distributing 26 for family and friends.
They saw Waters rush for a career best 138 yards and two touchdowns. When he wasn’t throwing the ball to Lockett, Waters’ planned and unplanned scrambles was K-State’s best offense.
“I thought if I need to run the ball every play to get the win, I will, as long as we get the win,” Waters said.
They did, in a gutsy way, and now the Wildcats can think about Auburn.