Cats Survive in Three Overtimes

September 19, 20150 Comments

For most of Saturday’s game, it looked like red zone issues for the Kansas State offense would result in a stunning loss in the Wildcats’ non-conference finale.

But K-State made the bigger plays at the biggest moments to overcome Louisiana Tech’s upset bid, 39-33, in triple overtime at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

“I will say I’m proud of them,” Snyder said. “We have a group of guys who had not been in that situation before. Through heck and high water, they managed to carve their way through it.

“I’m not sure how they did it, but at least we’re 3-0.”

The Wildcats, having kicked five field goals in the red zone already this season, were forced to kick three more against the Bulldogs. Jack Cantele nailed them all.

In K-State’s first two games of the season, the weakness didn’t come back to bite them. But LA Tech was talented enough to make things much more nerve-racking this time around.

“We have to do a better job at getting into things our guys can execute,” Snyder said. “We have to be able to utilize the kind of runs that give us a chance.”

K-State trailed 7-6 at halftime, failing to reach the end zone in three chances deep in Bulldog territory.

The second half was better, slightly, when freshman running back Justin Silmon started to find more room to run against the LA Tech defense.

Kody Cook’s four-yard, highlight reel touchdown reception late in the third quarter tied the game at 13.

Silmon rushed for 58 yards on the drive and finished the game with 114 yards on 24 carries.

He said it was exciting to be called upon more than he ever has before.

“I was able to make a couple nice runs,” Silmon said. “Hopefully we did some things offensively that we can build on.”

In front of a sold-out crowd, Louisiana Tech would not go down quietly. The Bulldogs answered K-State’s score with a touchdown of their own to reclaim the lead.

But K-State’s defense and special teams answered the call in the fourth quarter.

Dominique Heath registered a 58-yard punt return to set up Charles Jones’ two-yard score to knot the game up again. Two plays later, the Wildcat defense forced its first turnover of the season when Elijah Lee stripped the ball from LA Tech’s Trent Taylor.

It set up yet another red zone field goal by Cantele, but one to take the lead nonetheless, with 2:44 to play.

K-State’s defense did a solid job holding down a powerful Bulldog offense most of the afternoon, but couldn’t do so on the last drive of regulation. LA Tech’s Jonathan Barnes hit a 45-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.

Wildcat quarterback Joe Hubener came up big in the extra periods, hitting Heath for a 22-yard desperation touchdown in the back of the end zone on K-State’s first possession.

“Coach (Andre) Coleman tells us to attack the ball and that’s what I did,” Heath said. “I have to thank God though; I think there was a little luck.”

It took more than one desperate play to close out a victory. The Bulldogs matched K-State score-for-score, forcing Cantele to hit a 44-yard field goal to send the game to a third overtime.

Cantele, in relief of the injured Matt McCrane, made all four of his attempts in the game.

“That last one that he hit, for him to have that mental toughness, I think speaks very highly of him as a person,” Snyder said. “I admire him for battling through what he has.”

In the third overtime, K-State was faced in another desperate situation. Facing third and 16, Hubener found Cook over the middle. Cook caught the ball inside the five and dove forward for a 31-yard score.

It gave the Wildcats a 39-33 lead, and the defense stopped LA Tech on fourth down to secure the victory.

“It was a great route and a great call by the coaches,” Hubener said. “Kody made a great play to get in the endzone.”

Hubener, who finished the game 15 of 26 passing for 195 yards and three scores, said it was the way his team performed with their backs against the wall that proved to be the difference.

“In a triple overtime game, someone is going to be heartbroken in the end,” Hubener said. “Thankfully, our guys made enough plays to finish it.”

Elijah Lee led the Wildcat defense with a career-high 12 tackles, while Jordan Willis logged 2.5 sacks against one of the nation’s top offenses so far this season.

Willis said K-State is conditioned to withstand a long, physical game.

“We pride ourselves on that,” he said. “I think we held up pretty good.”

The Wildcats will have a week to catch their breath and count their blessings for the 3-0 start to the season. K-State opens Big 12 play at Oklahoma State on Oct. 3.

“We have a plethora of things to correct,” Snyder said. “It’s going to be a very, very long night.”

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