By Tyler Dreiling
Jack Cantele had done it before. From almost the same spot, even. But not like this.
The beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, perhaps. It wasn’t pretty. It shouldn’t have even happened. But in a flurry of Iowa State mistakes and K-State’s first good fortune in weeks, the Wildcats kept their bowl hopes alive and ended a six-game losing streak with a 38-35 victory Saturday.
It took a 21-point comeback to accomplish, which tied the largest in school history.
“Maybe we got a break or two that we hadn’t gotten in those other ball games,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “I’m awfully proud of them for hanging in there and not giving up.”
K-State (4-6, 1-6 Big 12) was thoroughly outplayed in the first half and trailed 35-14. The Wildcats were well on their way to a crippling loss that would eliminate any remaining shot at a successful season.
But it didn’t happen.
K-State pitched a shutout in the second half, and got within a touchdown with 13:13 remaining. It had three chances to tie the game after that point, and failed each time.
Iowa State (3-8, 2-6) took over possession with 1:31 to play. Fans streamed for the exits, and for good reason.
A minute later, many were working their way back down the stairs. K-State had the ball at its own 45 after the Cyclones’ second fumble in five minutes. ISU could have kneeled the ball, but didn’t.
Joe Hubener hit Andre Davis for a 42-yard completion. Charles Jones punched it in three plays later. Tie game.
Iowa State could have taken the game to overtime at that point. It didn’t. Cyclone QB Joel Lanning was sacked, lost the ball, and K-State’s Cre Moore recovered at the ISU 22 with ten seconds left. It was Iowa State’s third fumble of the fourth quarter.
Then, it was Cantele time from 42 yards out. Right down the middle.
“I didn’t feel pressure,” Cantele said. “If I missed, I knew we were going to overtime and we would have had all the momentum.
“One thing that has always motivated me is my past. If you have a bad game, you can just forget about it, but that’s not how I operate. I keep things in my mind and let them motivate me.”
Hubener led the Wildcats with 90 yards rushing on the day, while Jones added 67 and two scores. Statistically, it was average. But in a series dominated by unconventional finishes in recent years, Iowa State grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.
Snyder said the comeback was made possible by his team’s improved defense after the intermission.
“We didn’t give up the extensive big plays like we did in the first half,” Snyder said. “We played more inspired and created turnovers.”
The victory marked K-State’s eighth straight over the Cyclones, and all but one of them has been decided by single digits.
After the game, the Wildcats’ locker room was as excited as Snyder has ever seen it.
“They enjoyed the daylights out of it,” he said. “I’ve been around here for a couple hundred years, and I’ve never seen a locker room like that.”
It was a celebration long overdue.
“That was fun,” linebacker Elijah Lee said. “I haven’t seen the locker room like that before. It’s one thing to win some non-conference games, but to beat a Big 12 team and to do it like that, it was pretty loud in there.”
The Wildcats have plenty of work to do, and still must win their final two games to get to 6-6. But the outlook on things is drastically different than it was with 90 seconds left.
This time, the ball bounced K-State’s way. All three of them.