When defensive stops seemed nearly impossible, a stout second-half defensive performance and strong senior leadership in quarterback Jake Waters came through with a shutout and three second half touchdowns.
Waters ran for a career-high 138 yards and scored two touchdowns while sparking a seven play, 80-yard touchdown drive late to give No. 20 K-State (2-0, 1-0) an exciting, come from behind 32-28 victory over Iowa State.
The Wildcats will stay at home next Saturday and have 12 days off before Auburn, last season’s national runner-ups, comes to town on Sept. 18.
“I just wanted to win so bad,” Waters said after the game. “Every guy wanted to win so bad. Another side of me kind of came out. I haven’t shown it a lot but I just wanted it so bad. Every game is so important — not just because it was here at Iowa State and I’m from Iowa — we just wanted to win so bad. (With) all that work we put into it, I just knew we had it in us to come out with the win.”
The opportunity for the game-winning drive may not have come about if it weren’t for senior defensive back Randall Evans.
Down 28-26 with less than 10 minutes to play, Evans threw his left arm in to break up a Sam Richardson pass, only to come away with an improbable interception after an initial catch from Iowa State’s Jarvis West.
Evans calls it the best play of his career.
“That’s number one right now, most definitely,” Evans said. “It was a big third-down play. We were down still and were trying to do whatever it takes for our team to win.”
Senior defensive end Ryan Mueller insists that his teammate knew he was going to make a big play before the game ever started.
“Me and him were stretching right next to each other (before the game),” Mueller said. “He was kind of talking himself up saying, ‘I’m feeling it today, Mueller. I’m feeling like I’m making a big play today.’ I was like, ‘Alright, lets see it. If you’re going to be a beast, I want to see it today.’ He definitely proved himself right.”
Following the interception, K-State took over and capitalized. Waters completed two passes for 35 yards to get down to the Iowa State four-yard line. Redshirt sophomore running back Charles Jones did the rest on the ensuing play, rushing ahead for the score.
“We had a lot of toughness to win the ballgame and we didn’t quit,” Jones said. “We finished like we wanted to.”
K-State head coach Bill Snyder wasn’t about to celebrate the victory.
“I don’t know if they thought it was going to be easy,” Snyder said. “I thought the players would contend differently. There were two parts: one was an obvious letdown for us, and the other was that Iowa State did not let down. I take my hat off to them. I’m a Paul Rhoads fan, and I think he knows how to motivate young guys. He did that today. They competed and didn’t give up anytime.”
Saturday’s frantic finish was a far cry from how the contest began.
K-State settled into a groove right from the kickoff. Waters connected with a wide-open Tyler Lockett for a 57-yard reception four plays into their opening drive. Charles Jones scored from four yards out a play later to give the Wildcats an early 7-0 lead.
The defense followed suit with two quick three-and-outs, which led to two K-State field goals and a comfortable 13-0 advantage.
K-State was cruising. Then the mistakes mounted.
Eight penalties and many more missed tackles later, K-State found itself playing from behind for the first time in 2014.
Jarvis West helped the Cyclones storm back with four unanswered touchdowns to give the Cyclones a 15-point lead two minutes before halftime.
West accounted for 21 of Iowa State’s 28 first-half points. The redshirt senior finished the first half with 153 all-purpose yards and touchdowns by way of receiving, punt returning, and passing.
“He is a very talented young athlete,” Snyder said. “When he brought the punt back, we made some mistakes, but he made a tremendously-talented play. He made a lot of people miss today. He caught quick throws, jumped around and got first-down yardage. He’s a very fine player.”
The Wildcats helped their cause with a 10 play, 84-yard scoring drive moments before the halftime whistle to pull within eight points.
Waters found Lockett three times on the drive for 33 yards before capping off the drive himself with a one-yard touchdown run.
Still fighting for the comeback late in the third quarter, Waters engineered a drive all the way down to the Iowa State 31-yard line, but the Cyclones were able to stuff K-State on fourth-down-and-inches.
Waters redeemed himself with the game-winning touchdown run with less than two minutes remaining to seal the victory. He did so in front of 25-30 family and friends who attended the game.
Iowa State falls to 0-2 and 0-1 in conference play. The Cyclones will look to bounce back next Saturday against in-state rival Iowa.